Dunnings' guilty plea could guarantee prison time

Published: Aug. 2, 2016 at 7:21 PM EDT
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It could be a while before former Ingham County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III finds out if he's going to prison.

On Tuesday Dunnings took a deal, pleading guilty to prostitution related charge. A Jackson County judge said he's waiting to set a date for Dunning's sentencing.

As part of the deal, Dunnings pleaded guilty to a lesser felony charge of misconduct in office and a misdemeanor of engaging the services of a prostitute.

In March Dunnings was charged with 14 other counts related to prostitution, including a felony for pandering. All of those were dismissed in the bargain.

But in court, Dunnings admitted that he paid a woman for sex, even though she wasn't a prostitute.

"I solicited her for sex in exchange for money," Dunnings testified.

Local attorney Ron Bretz says that admission of guilt may guarantee Dunnings does time.

"If he didn't admit to the pandering charge there isn't much to go on," said Bretz, a Retired Cooley Law School Professor who also worked as a public defender.

Bretz says there's a chance Dunnings gets no prison time, since the former prosecutor had a clean record before this case. But Bretz says that's less likely with the pandering admission on the record.

"If the defendant admits it in court that he committed a crime with which he hasn't been convicted, then they can use that admission to increase the sentence on the crime he plead to," Bretz explained.

If Dunnings does get locked up, Bretz predicts it won't be for more than a year or two at most, which is much less than the maximum sentence of five years.

"There's something to be said for sending a message that elected officials, particularly those entrusted with the criminal justice systems in their counties--the ones who are responsible for prosecuting crimes--that if they start committing crimes they will be punished," Bretz said.

Ultimately it's up to a judge, but locking up Dunnings comes with complications.

"This guy was the prosecutor," Bretz said. "Can we put him in the Ingham County Jail? No. There are people serving time in the Ingham County jail who Dunnings prosecuted."

The Attorney General's office says it will be asking the judge for a harsher sentence, because it wants justice for Dunnings' victims.

"We are moving forward with restoring trust in Ingham County for our local government officials," said Spokeswoman Andrea Bitely.

If Dunnings is sentenced to less than a year he'll serve his time in a county jail. A longer sentence would put him in a state prison. Bretz says Dunnings could be sent to another state because he would likely be considered a high-profile inmate in Michigan.

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