Joseph Rakofsky’s Former Client Sentenced to 10 Years

Jamison KoehlerCurrent Events, D.C. Superior Court, Professional Responsibility/Ethics

After pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter, Dontrell Deaner has been sentenced to 10 years in prison, to be followed by 5 years of supervised probation.

Remember Dontrell Deaner?

Just over a year ago, his name was all over the Internet in connection with the Joseph Rakofsky fiasco. Rakofsky was the lawyer, a few years out of law school, who took on a 1st degree murder case despite the fact that he had never been to trial before, much less a murder trial. Dontrell Deaner had the bad fortune to be his client.

Rakofsky has since sued virtually everyone on the Internet, including this blogger, for writing about it.

There were a number of references to the whole affair at the sentencing hearing this morning. The prosecutor was the most circumspect, beginning by noting that “this case has been pending for quite some time.”  She also referred to the proceedings at trial “before they were interrupted.”

David Benowitz, whom Judge William Jackson appointed to the case after Rakofsky was booted, was a little bit more direct in addressing the issue during his argument.  The reason Deaner hadn’t accepted the plea offer earlier, Benowitz noted, was that he was represented by two lawyers who clearly were not up to the task:  It is hard to consider the merits of a plea offer when you are not getting the right advice.

If both lawyers were somewhat circumspect, Judge Jackson did not pull any punches. Apparently not cowed by Rakofsky’s earlier accusations of defamation, Jackson noted that, while he didn’t know what the outcome would have been had better advice been given at the outset, Deaner had been represented at trial by two lawyers with “no ability to assess the quality of the evidence” against Deaner.  The Judge said that he hadn’t been aware that the trial was Rakofsky’s first ever until Rakofsky mentioned it during his opening statement.

The primary lawyer in the case, the Judge said, the one who had been retained, was clearly not interested in considering a plea for Mr. Deaner; he wanted to be able to say he had tried a murder case. Both lawyers, he said, were “clueless” and “motivated by self-interest.”

That said, Judge Jackson promised not to hold the aborted trial against Deaner when imposing the sentence.

The prosecutor argued for 180 months of incarceration followed by 15 years of probation. In so doing, she noted that Deaner had been arrested for a carjacking that occurred a mere 10 days after the homicide. Clearly, his role in the aborted robbery that led to the homicide occasioned no remorse and no second thoughts about the ramifications of his behavior. The only reason that the carjacking charges against Deaner were dismissed, she said, was because a critical witness in the case could not be located.

Benowitz acknowledged his client’s role in the homicide but argued calmly and  persuasively in favor of a lesser sentence – 60 months of incarceration, to be precise.  He also pushed back on the prosecutor’s arguments with respect to the carjacking. The government has had three years to re-bring the case, he pointed out.  They couldn’t find the witness?  He said he was not sure who had been looking.

In the end, splitting the difference, the Judge imposed 120 months of incarceration – or 10 years – to be followed by 5 years of supervised probation. That sentence is twice the term offered by the government in its initial plea offer.  This was the offer that Deaner, receiving advice from different counsel, had rejected.  [I should note that I don’t know if the government’s initial offer was made during the time Deaner was represented by Rakofsky or by his very first lawyer, a court-appointed lawyer whom Deaner fired in order to hire Rakofsky.]