IF YOU CAN’T GET FIXED

I was waiting in court the other day when I overheard a sentencing  hearing for an assault.  The young man being sentenced was very shaken.  He considered himself a pretty gentle guy.  He was as shocked as anybody.  But for whatever reason, at a pickup game, a casual sporting event, he lost control and punched an opposing player in the face.

He didn’t mean to.  He has no record.  His private lawyer sent him to get an evaluation, and they determined that he did not need any services such as Anger Management, Moral Reconation Therapy, or other kinds of batterer’s treatment.  It was a one-time incident that will never be repeated.  The young man is just as distraught as anyone else – filled with remorse. He has learned his lesson.  He is taking responsibility, your Honor, and will have this felony conviction on his record.  So he has suffered enough.

Okay.  But the problem is that the person he punched was so injured that bones were broken – and he has undergone several surgeries to his face.  So what do we do?  It wasn’t an accident.  It was in fact intentional, even if all the consequences were not.  And the assailant’s remorse does not heal the damage done by the assault. The harm remains.

The prosecutor and defense attorney negotiated an agreed recommendation that the young man would pay fines and fees.  He would do some hundreds of hours of community service.  He would pay restitution, as part of the criminal case, to the crime victim.  This means that he could go to jail if he doesn’t keep up with his payments, and the crime victim does not have to sue him in civil court for damages.  The lawyers agreed he would be on probation for two years as well.

The judge, as always, has the authority to accept or decline any agreement made by the parties.  Except in the rare case that a judge sentences the defendant to something outside the state sentencing guidelines, the defendant cannot appeal his sentence.  Nor can he withdraw his guilty plea.  In practice, most judges follow the agreed recommendation most of the time.  This time, the judge did not.

“I understand that both sides have reached an agreed recommendation, and that there were extensive negotiations involved.  My problem, sir, is that you had an evaluation that says you don’t have any problem with anger, or impulse control, and you are not a danger to anyone.  Yet you hit someone so hard, in a fit of rage, in a game – a simple pickup game, playing for fun – that the person you hit needed surgery to his face.  Several surgeries.

“So what I have to say is this.  I am all about rehabilitation.  But you say you don’t need services.  So I say if you can’t get fixed, you need to get punished.  More than paying money.  More than volunteering.  You need jail time.  And I understand this isn’t what your lawyer wants, and this isn’t want you want, but the crime victim didn’t want to get punched in the face so hard that he needed surgery either.

“I feel strongly that I must punish you, because you need to understand that this behavior is not okay.   And if we make it okay, that makes a pretty bloody world for us to live in.  And I don’t want to live in that world.  I want to have a rule of law.  So I am going to give you jail time.  And I hope you will use it to think about what kind of a world you would like to live in, and I hope it does you good.”