Inside the Courts

Same time for same crime? Ask Patrick Cannon

Former Charlotte mayor Patrick Cannon outside the federal courthouse in uptown Charlotte.
Former Charlotte mayor Patrick Cannon outside the federal courthouse in uptown Charlotte. The Charlotte Observer

Pardon former Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon if he’s shaking his head.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the bribery conviction of Bob McDonnell, likely sending the former Virginia governor to prison. Here’s why a certain federal inmate could be second-guessing himself.

Cannon pleaded guilty to accepting more than $50,000 in bribes. A year ago, U.S. District Judge Frank Whitney Jr. of Charlotte sentenced him to 44 months in prison. Given good behavior and other programs available, he could be in a Charlotte halfway house in two years or less. Cannon, a Democrat, cooperated fully with prosecutors.

McDonnell and his wife were convicted of accepting some $177,000 in improper loans and gifts. Because he didn’t cooperate, legal observers expected a harsh sentence – a prediction that appeared to be borne out when the U.S. Probation Office recommended that McDonnell serve 10 to 121/2 years.

But the judge settled on two years. McDonnell is expected to serve no more than half that.

Let’s review: Cannon took money and betrayed a city. McDonnell betrayed a state, took three times the bribes and cost taxpayers thousands of dollars more in an expensive and lengthy trial. Yet Cannon got twice the sentence.

Federal sentencing guidelines were established to punish similar crimes in similar ways.

Explain that to Cannon. He’s got plenty of time to listen.

Starting the clock on domestic violence

Just how many times do you have to go out before you’re dating? A ruling this month by the N.C. Court of Appeals sheds some light.

Kevin Williams met her on a Charlotte greenway. They hit it off. Briefly.

After three weeks, the woman told Williams not to call her again. Court records indicate that Williams responded with a rash of calls, emails and texts. Records say Williams was arrested a year ago and charged with stalking. He left another message on the woman’s phone. “You put me through hell. Now it’s your turn.”

Last August, District Judge Elizabeth Trosch ruled that Williams had committed domestic violence and told him to turn in his firearms and stay away from the woman.

Williams appealed, arguing that he and the woman did not go out long enough to meet the “dating relationship” required under the state’s domestic violence law. He also said Trosch wrongly ruled that domestic violence had occurred.

The appeals court disagreed. Dating, it said, is defined as being romantically involved over time, which can be measured by minutes or hours.

Domestic violence may be most often linked to the throwing of a punch. The judges ruled it can also occur with the tap of a keypad.