Sunday, November 25, 2012

Proper punishment or abuse of discretion?

I have commented before on the practice of some judges of imposing unorthodox, unusual or "creative" punishment, in lieu of applying the law.  (See here, where you will find links to more.) Some argue there is value in seeking forms of punishment that do not involve jail terms. After all, this country does have too many people in prison as it is.  However, I think it is dangerous when judges feel they can do whatever they want.

The issue is again in the news following two recent cases.  In one, a judge sentenced a woman to cook a Thanksgiving dinner for police officers (here).  In another, the judge sentenced a minor to go to church for ten years (here).  I find both episodes objectionable and disturbing.  Professor Jonathan Turley has written about this subject many times in the past and his comment on these recent cases is available here.  It reads, in part,
Forcing citizens to cook for police officers is another example of a judge who panders to the public with sentences that seem “poetic justice.” Judges know that this type of punishment is hugely popular with the public. It is a trend that is erasing the line between entertainment and the law. There has been a continuing and growing trend of this type of abuse by judges. I have written columns (here and here and here) and blogs articles (here and here and here and here and here) criticizing this worrisome trend, though the most serious such cases involve judges like Norman who try to bring “more people to Jesus” while carrying out his duties as a judicial officer. These judges make a mockery out of our court system and sit like little Caesars in meting out their own idiosyncratic forms of justice — often to the thrill of citizens.
The case of the judge sentencing a defendant to go to church is discussed in this NY Times article.

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