Lori Loughlin could serve 'less time' in prison due to coronavirus: 'That would not surprise me at all,' says lawyer

Lori Loughlin and Mossimo Giannulli struck a deal with prosecutors for their role in the college admissions scandal, the U.S. Attorney's Office in the District of Massachusetts announced on Thursday.

The Full House star, 55, and her fashion designer husband, 56, will both plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud. They were accused of paying $500,000 to get their two daughters into the University Southern California as crew recruits, despite neither having played the sport. Giannulli has also agreed to plead guilty to honest-services wire and mail fraud, which ups his prison time.

Under the terms of Loughlin’s agreement, she will receive a sentence of two months in prison, a $150,000 fine and two years of supervised release with 100 hours of community service. Giannulli will serve five months in prison, pay a $250,000 fine and have two years of supervised release with 250 hours of community service.

Is that fair? And what’s the likelihood either Loughlin or Giannulli even see the inside of a prison cell given the coronavirus pandemic? Yahoo Entertainment consulted with two lawyers about the agreement.

Los Angeles criminal defense attorney Lisa Houle said she’s “not surprised at all” by the plea deal, which she called “reasonable.”

“Following their request to have the charges dismissed, which was denied, their only choice was to go to trial or accept responsibility with a guilty plea,” the former L.A. County prosecutor told Yahoo on Thursday. Earlier this month, Loughlin and Giannulli lost their request for the case to be tossed on grounds of prosecutorial misconduct.

“This is a fair and reasonable deal for both sides,” Houle added. “These deals are consistent with other defendants received as part of their plea agreements.”

Loughlin and Giannulli, who are the 23rd and 24th parents to plead guilty in the scandal, are expected to appear before a judge on Friday via videoconference due to the pandemic. (They live in California and would have had to appear in a Boston federal court under different circumstances.) Per the actress’s agreement, her prison sentence will begin “no earlier than 90 days after imposition of final judgment.” That’s not Loughlin getting star treatment. According to Houle, the stipulation isn’t unusual since it was agreed upon as part of their deal.

“It is not unusual for defendants and their attorneys to include language consistent with what they have agreed to with the prosecutors,” she explained. “Essentially, Loughlin is asking to delay her surrender date for three months after her guilty plea is entered. A surrender date is when a defendant actually goes into custody to begin serving their sentence. The delay between entry of a guilty plea and surrender is oftentimes used to ‘get one's affairs in order.’ She may also have requested that delay to wait for COVID to be more under control. Or, she may have asked for the delay in order to stagger her sentence beyond her husband serving his time.”

Yahoo also spoke with Los Angeles criminal defense attorney Silva Megerditchian, who views this plea deal a win for all parties. That’s why she believes it will be approved by a judge.

“It is true, the judge has the ultimate power to sign off on a deal. In this case, I think the public was shocked about how much time Lori and Mossimo could do — decades in federal prison. This way, the public is satisfied of some ‘reasonable’ prison time being given to the couple, and the government is satisfied they got a guilty plea without a trial,” she explained.

People are already speculating as to whether Loughlin and Giannulli will even do two months and five months, respectively, behind bars. Felicity Huffman ended up serving 11 days out of her 14-day sentence, as she was one of the first parents to plead guilty.

Megerditchian said it’s certainly possible the couple will serve less time than the plea deal states.

“Yes, they could serve less time, but it is impossible to tell at this juncture,” Megerditchian explained. “Plus, let's not forget we are in the time of COVID-19, so anything is possible. For safety purposes, if there is an outbreak where Lori or her husband is serving, their defense attorneys can always do a motion to the court to have them released early because of the pandemic.”

Megerditchian believes COVID-19 could have been a factor in the deal ultimately reached — but more so on the government’s side.

“The pandemic could have had an impact on their plea in that the government may be more inclined to settle the case for a lesser offer to avoid a trial during these uncertain times,” she theorized. “They might have given an easier plea deal today knowing the process of trial, and getting jurors to appear in court, may not be worth it in the long run. The prosecutor got what they wanted — federal prison time, probation and a hefty fine. And honestly, the defense got what they wanted — only a few months in federal prison.”

She continued, “I also strongly believe that the judge denying the dismissal of the charges a week ago had a lot to do with Lori's decision to plea. The defense hoped that the prosecutors’ mishandling of evidence could lead to a dismissal of all charges, and as we know, the judge denied the motion. I think Lori realized, if she was ever going to cop to a plea, this was the best time.”

The pandemic could end up working in Loughlin and Giannulli’s favor, though. COVID-19 is a huge cause of concern in prisons due to its highly contagious nature. People are seeing early release from prisons around the country due to outbreaks. Megerditchian said it’s a possibility the couple could ultimately receive a lesser sentence because of the pandemic.

“Yes,” she affirmed. “The rules as we know it for federal and state cases have changed almost daily. At this point, it is not clear what the impact will be now that states are opening up again. We might be reaching life as we knew it before the pandemic — but if that's the case, the pandemic wont have as much as an impact on their sentence.”

Attorney Lisa Houle agreed Loughlin and Giannulli’s sentence could be impacted by the pandemic.

“I do not believe that the deal itself is a reflection of COVID-19. However, I do think that COVID-19 could ultimately result in them serving even less time than their agreed-upon sentences,” she stated. “That would not surprise me at all. We have seen other defendants being released early amidst the pandemic.”

Houle also clarified that home confinement isn’t on the table for Loughlin and Giannulli right now.

“Based on the terms of their plea agreement, they have agreed to serve the time in custody. This is a binding plea agreement so they are waiving all issues,” she said. “They will serve the agreed-upon time.”

The only way that binding agreement changes is if the judge finds the sentence too lenient. “If that is the case, they could withdraw their plea and set the case for trial,” Houle stated.

Loughlin and Giannulli will formally plead guilty in front of a judge on Friday at 11:30 a.m. ET. The next steps remain to be seen.

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