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Boston College Expert: Sentencing of James "Whitey" Bulger

Robert Bloom


(617) 894-1781 (cell)

Robert Bloom has been widely quoted by national and local media outlets on a number of high profile cases, including the Bulger case. He specializes in Constitutional law; civil rights; criminal and civil trials; court system; police abuse; police use of informants; Fourth Amendment; police interrogation; judges and jurors. A former civil rights attorney and assistant district attorney, Bloom is the author of Constitutional Criminal Procedure and co-author of Moore's Federal Practice, a major treatise on federal civil practice

NOVEMBER 13, 2013

It’s a foregone conclusion Whitey Bulger will spend the rest of his life in prison, but one key question surrounding his two-day sentencing hearing, which begins today, is whether families of alleged victims Bulger wasn’t convicted of killing will be allowed to give victim impact statements.

“Although the judge has some discretion in determining who can participate in the sentencing hearing, I think in fairness to Mr. Bulger it should only be limited to family members of victims the jury found were killed by him,” says Boston College Law Professor Robert Bloom.

The 84-year old Bulger was charged with participating in the murders of 19 people but convicted in 11 of those murders, leaving the families of the remaining eight victims to ask the judge if they too will be allowed to speak to Bulger before sentencing,. While U.S. District Court Judge Denise Casper has yet to rule, Professor Bloom says allowing the extra impact statements would be a mistake.

“The impact statement is supposed to have some cathartic effect in which the defendant, having been found responsible, has to hear from the families as to how the crime affected them,” says Professor Bloom, a former prosecutor. “But if you don’t have the initial finding of responsibility by a jury, then it turns into a circus. It won’t affect the sentence one way or the other; he’s going to get a whole lot of time no matter what.”

Bulger was convicted in August not only of multiple counts of murder, but also of racketeering, money laundering, extortion, and weapons possession.  If Judge Casper allows all 19 families to give victim impact statements, it could not only set a legal precedent, but add fodder for an appeal.

“There’s been nothing like this before,” says Professor Bloom. “It could open the door to an appeal. I don’t think it’s a viable appeal because the judge has the discretion to hear from any victims she wants. But I would think the judge would want to limit the statements to those from families of victims Mr. Bulger was convicted of killing.”