Analysis: Guilty, now what?

Until the former president sees the inside of a jail cell, and which jail that will be, many questions have to be answered.

Moshe Katsav 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Moshe Katsav 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The guilty verdict issued Thursday to former president Moshe Katsav on charges of rape, sexual harassment and obstruction of justice has been described by some legal experts as a worldwide precedent in the field of criminal justice.  When it comes to the stature of the felon and the judicial response to the crimes, modern Western societies have yet to have experienced such a case.
Historical precedent aside, the case is likely far from over. Sentencing has to be ruled on, appeals will likely be submitted and even pardons have to be considered. Until the former president sees the inside of a jail cell, and which jail that will be is a story unto itself, many questions have to be answered.
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“The conviction of a person of Katsav’s stature of such charges has dual implications,” said Professor Emanuel Gross, an expert on criminal law from the University of Haifa. “Firstly we have to ask ourselves how a president, Israel’s first citizen, could do such shameful things without anybody being aware of them. It’s possible that there were people who knew about it and did nothing. On the other hand this trial sheds a bright light on the strength and independence of our justice system, which can investigate and prosecute a president and courts that can get to the bottom of the truth.”
One of the lessons that can be learned from the verdict, according to Gross, is that in cases where public officials are involved, the doors should be closed to plea bargains. “Judges should be made to reach the truth, these types of cases should not be settled outside of the court.”
Katsav’s sentencing, which will likely take place in the next few weeks will present a challenge unto itself for the judges, with a possible maximum sentence of 49 years, but no clear minimum, the judges will have to hand in a verdict that suites the crime, but one that will still respect the persona of the president and the establishment.
The problem in Katsav’s case, is that while today the law determines a minimum period of four years in prison for rape charges, at the time the offenses took place, no such minimum was determined, so the judges can theoretically rule anywhere from zero to 16 years for each rape conviction. The other convictions, carry lesser mandatory sentences, but it is likely the court won’t choose to hand out the maximum in those cases either.
“In my opinion the court needs to rule beyond the minimum because of the severity of the crimes and the repeated offenses. I think we might be looking at a double figure prison sentence,” said Gross.
Once the sentence is delivered, Katsav will also have the right to appeal to a higher court. Though his lawyers have not yet decided on a course of action, it is an option that is theoretically open to him, even though experts differ on the chances that an appeal motion will be heard, based on the nature of the trial.
“The Supreme court does not interfere on issues of factual evidence or testimonial credibility, which is what this case revolved around. In the absence of a judicial error, which no one so far has brought up, I think the chances of an appeal are slim,” said Gross.
Another possible option is a presidential pardon. In theory, the current President Shimon Peres could pardon the man he replaced in office, but there would have to be a substantial reason to do so. Katsav’s unwillingness to admit to the facts or express any measure of remorse makes it even more difficult to see him being pardoned.
Estimates are that the judges will want to get the sentencing out of the way quickly and assuming he gets a prison sentence, see Katsav enter a prison shortly afterward. It’s assumed that due to his stature, Katsav will be given a short adjustment and preparation period in between sentencing and going to jail, but it is possible that two or three months from now the former occupant of the president’s residence will be occupying a much less luxurious abode.