A federal judge has put off until next week the sentencing of so-called spam king Robert Alan Soloway. More witnesses need to take the stand, after which Judge Marsha Pechman is expected to hand down her sentence. He could receive 20 years, though that seems unlikely.

The case is vexing for Pechman because there is little in the way of legal precedence, she said. While spam is an established fact of internet use these days, troubling and disruptive to most, determining an appropriate penalty for those responsible for the unwanted email raises issues beyond the annoyance factor.

Soloway was arrested in May 2007 following criminal charges brought by the U.S. Department of Justice. He plead guilty to single counts of mail fraud, email fraud and tax evasion.

His defense attorney argues that this is simply a spam case, which under the CAN-SPAM Act carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

But others contend that the case is not simply about a vendor sending out millions of unsolicited email messages. Soloway is also accused of misrepresenting his business and not delivering on services and products offered.

While Soloway’s being held responsible for his actions may bring satisfaction to many, the judge’s decision over how much jail time he should serve as a consequence has to be a tough call.

Were spam recipients victims of a crime? Certainly those who purchased from Soloway software that didn’t work were victims of fraud.

At times, judges in cases such as this like to say in their ruling that they are making an example. Determining the extent of criminality in this case, and the price to be paid, may or may not send shockwaves through the internet marketplace.

Perhaps the sentencing next week in Soloway’s case will cause a ripple. But, as long as there is money to be made from activities such as those embodied by Soloway, the verdict is neither in or out. Whether he gets a short or long sentence, those miscreants behind internet fraud schemes are unlikely to slow their activities.

Now if the feds can catch up to some perpetrators of identity fraud.