Experts: Orie likely to receive jail time

Lack of criminal history may not be enough to keep her out of prison

When state Sen. Jane Orie stands before the sentencing judge in May to receive her punishment on 14 criminal charges, the best-case scenario is that the judge considers her lack of a criminal history, her background of public service and her strong family ties and gives her probation.

But the more likely scenario, experts say, is that the longtime McCandless Republican, who was convicted of using state employees to do campaign work and submitting fraudulent documents to the court during her first trial, will receive some form of incarceration.

The statutory maximum penalty on the five felony counts is 3 1/2 to seven years in prison, said former prosecutor Patrick Nightingale. But the sentencing guidelines call for significantly less than that, listing the mitigated range at probation, and the aggravated range at one to two years incarceration.

"If the court wants to sentence in the aggravated range or beyond, then the court must put sufficient facts on the record to justify departure from the guidelines range," Mr. Nightingale said.

On the other hand, though, Judge Jeffrey A. Manning also could sentence within the standard range, but run the sentences on each count consecutive to one another.

"With sentencing, the court is obligated by Pennsylvania state statute to consider not only the guidelines, but the unique characteristics of the offender, the need for rehabilitation and the need for punishment," Mr. Nightingale said. "It will be the defendant's obligation to bring evidence of mitigation and create a complete picture of the person standing before the judge."

Ms. Orie, 50, was found guilty on Monday of five felonies and nine misdemeanors. The charges, which included theft of services, ethics violations, tampering with evidence and forgery, stemmed from allegations she used her legislative staff to run fundraisers and conduct campaign work.

University of Pittsburgh law professor John Burkoff, who followed the Orie case closely, believes the senator will get "serious prison time."

"The political corruption charges are serious," he said. But the forgery counts -- Ms. Orie was convicted of forging her chief of staff's name on court exhibits -- may be worse, he said.

"It is something that strikes at the heart of the justice system. Every lawyer and judge takes this very seriously," Mr. Burkoff said.

"It may be the sentence for the cover-up will be worse than the underlying crime."

A person sentenced to just under two years incarceration can serve that time in the county jail. Anything longer than that calls for the sentence to be served in state prison.

In Pennsylvania, there are two female prisons. The classification center is at the State Correctional Institution Muncy, Lycoming County, which has greater security than SCI Cambridge Springs, Crawford County.

All female inmates first report there and undergo a battery of assessments and testing, including medical, dental and mental health, before learning their classification in the system, said Sue Bensinger, a spokeswoman with the state Department of Corrections.

Paula Reed Ward: or 412-263-2620. First Published March 28, 2012 4:00 AM


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