Elizabeth Holmes’ trial outcome uncertain, law professors say
Certainty about the outcome of the abandoned Stanford trial of Elizabeth Holmes is clouded by the complex circumstances surrounding Holmes’ intentions and relationships, according to Stanford law professors. The Daily spoke to two of these professors and a law professor from Loyola to settle the case.
Holmes founded Theranos, a blood diagnostics company, in 2003, and raised a valuation of $ 9 billion for his company. She is now on trial for conspiracy and fraud for her involvement in the business and, if convinced, faces up to 20 years in prison.
Those looking for a quick answer on whether Holmes will be convicted will have to wait several months, according to Stanford Law Professor Robert Weisberg JD ’79. Weisberg, who taught at Stanford for four decades, specializes in criminal law and white-collar crime.
“The prosecution considers this to be a very simple matter. In cases that go to trial, the prosecution wins 70-80% of the time, ”Weisberg said. “Nonetheless, very few defendants have the resources that Holmes has, and there are special aspects to this trial; some view it with great disapproval, others with great sympathy.
Ultimately, the case is likely to come down to an intention to deceive or “whether the accused knowingly lied, or just turned out to be false in the end about how things were going to work out,” according to the Stanford law professor and former federal prosecutor David Sklansky.
Prosecutors will attempt to prove Holmes was intentionally lying by comparing what she knew with what she said, according to Sklansky. The prosecution will underline the degree of control Holmes has over the company and will argue that someone of her intelligence and power must have known she was lying, he added.
Weisberg agreed that intention will be a big part of the deal, adding that Holmes will have to make the case that she truly believed in Theranos. She will exaggerate her personality and personal history to portray herself as an aspiring visionary who made mistakes in the pursuit of lofty goals, rather than a malicious actress and liar, according to Weisberg.
“Holmes will say that if you want to be an entrepreneur in Silicon Valley, you have to learn to fail because you have to be bold and experiment,” Weisberg said.
Holmes also claims that Sunny Balwani – her ex-boyfriend and former Theranos president – was abusive and forced her to act under duress. But Loyola law professor Laurie Levenson ’77, who specializes in criminal law and procedure and previously prosecuted white-collar crimes, said the abuse allegation will be very difficult to prove.
“It was such a prolonged activity, and she took the initiative. When you see pictures or movies of her, she doesn’t look like she’s under duress, ”Levenson said. “It’s hard enough for battered women to argue in defense against coercion; for someone in this situation it would be a very difficult challenge.
Holmes also recently gave birth to her first child. While some analysts believe the child could benefit Holmes’ case, Levenson disagrees. “Legally, the child does not matter. You cannot commit fraud just because you have a child that you will miss when you go to jail, ”she said. While she noted that some jurors may sympathize with Holmes as a result, she added that others will be angry and feel manipulated.
Additionally, as Holmes is the first great female CEO in Silicon Valley to stand trial, gender could affect parts of the trial, because “whenever a powerful woman is accused of a crime, gender is involved in it. the way people think and talk about allegations, “Sklansky said. He explained that the jury will have to consider whether gender plays a role in how witnesses viewed the events they described. , there is no way to keep the gender issue out of the question.
Despite the possibility of up to 20 years in prison, Weisberg guessed that in reality Holmes would be sentenced to “a few years in prison at most”. Although the sentencing process is supposed to be based on objective criteria, the judge can still take personal factors into account, according to Weisberg. Although previous financial scandals resulted in sentences ranging from 10 to 20 years, those sentences were handed down against older businessmen who did not have Holmes’ personal and emotional claims, he explained. .
Although the Holmes case received a lot of publicity, Weisberg said it was not representative of the criminal justice system as a whole. In contrast to the tedious process of the Holmes case despite the absence of new legal problems, Weisberg said that “the criminal justice system is a mass production to large volume, guilty pleas that result in the convictions of relatively poor people. “.
Ultimately, Levenson sees this case as a warning to Stanford students and aspiring entrepreneurs.
“Stanford students push themselves to be bold and explore new areas. But there are always rules you have to follow, ”said Levenson. “The next time someone tries to take shortcuts or deceive people, they will have the lessons of the Elizabeth Holmes trial in mind. Don’t overshadow the rules of society.