Reputed Boston mobster Enrico Ponzo is leaving Idaho in the custody of the United States Marshal’s Service, headed to Beantown to face charges arising out of his life before Marsing. United States Magistrate Judge Ron Bush refused Ponzo’s request to remain free and appear voluntarily at his next hearing, finding that he had been too successful at hiding his true identity since disappearing nearly 27 years ago. Instead, he gets that long ride with the Marshals, and the chance to face a racketeering case that was filed in 1994 against he and 13 others for crimes that include murder and attempted murder. In Idaho, he has been a good neighbor, community member and friend.

So how much does that matter? How important is a "changed life" when it comes to facing criminal charges?

It matters – but not always at the point of guilt or innocence. A person either did, or did not commit the charged crimes. Living like a saint for 27 years will not alter whatever criminal conduct a person has engaged in before the change. But change matters. As I recently pointed out, sentencing is all about safety so 27 years of community membership is important to answering that all important safety question.

That Mr. Ponzo had broad community support at his detention hearing shows that at some level, he is just like the rest of us. He has friends. People who will stand up for him today and take him into their homes as a valued member of their community. That membership in the "tribe" is critical in every case. You have to show that you are part of the tribe to gain its protection. 

Here’s a little secret – an innocent man who does not appear to be part of the community (the "tribe") must prove he is worthy of its acceptance. If he cannot do that, he will almost certainly be convicted. I mean it – jurors don’t just try the evidence. They try the defendant. An outsider who cannot be trusted will have a very tough time at trial. The defendant must be like the other members of the tribe – he or she must fit in. 

Enrico Ponzo – or Jay Shaw, as he was known in Marsing – understood that. So did his neighbors. When he was arrested they gathered to support him because he was one of them. A member of their tribe. His life in Marsing mattered to them – and if he was being tried in Idaho it would matter to a jury.

So how is your life today? Are you part of a "tribe" that would come to your aid if your freedom was under attack?