It is highly unusual for an appellate court to upset a sentence handed out by a lower court in a criminal trial, but it can be done in cases where the sentencing judge appears to have been motivated by spite, anger or ill-will. So the overturning this week of the 45-year prison sentence of TV evangelist Jim Bakker amounts to a rebuke to the judge.
The remarks made by Judge Robert Potter in sentencing Bakker in 1989 appear on the face to be motivated by personal animosity. "Those of us who do have religion," said Judge Potter, "are sick of being saps for money-grubbing preachers and priests." It is clear from the statement that the judge had been personally offended by Bakker's conduct.
Bakker's conviction for fraud stands, as it should, based on the evidence brought out at his trial. He systematically solicited donations from gullible television viewers by deceptive means, for deceptive purposes. But what he did is minor compared to what was done by some of the scoundrels on Wall Street who committed fraud -- people like Ivan Boesky and Michael Milken. Yet none of the Wall Street gang drew sentences even close to that given Bakker. In fact, Boesky is already out of prison -- and back in his mansion.
If the Wall Street standards are applied, the time already served by Bakker seems quite ample for the crimes he committed.