Why You Gotta Be So…Mean?

My guy was taking a five-year prison sentence, and had arranged for a few weeks to get his affairs in order. The deal was that if he didn’t show up on the appointed day the judge could consider the full (five-to-life) range of punishment.

He showed up late.

The judge gave him six years.

Me: Judge, is being five minutes late really worth a year in prison?

Judge: He was fifteen minutes late.

Me: Okay. Judge, is being fifteen minutes late really worth a year in prison?

Judge: Yes. On sentencing day it is.

No. No, it really isn’t. Sentencing this guy to six years, taking away a year of his life for such a minor infraction, was mean of the judge: shabby, ungenerous, and vicious.

Could the judge legally do it? Probably. It was a violation of our deal, but there wasn’t a whole lot that I could see to do about it, other than keep my cool, hope for the judge to relent, and start planning my 2014 primary campaign for this bench.

It didn’t take long. Within minutes my office paged me: the judge wanted me back in court; she had changed her mind and reduced the sentence to the agreed-upon five years.

When I got back to court, the judge was not on the bench.

The best interpretation of the judge’s actions is that she found in herself an appropriate sense of shame, realized that she had been wrong, and promptly fixed it. While there was no apology forthcoming, I choose to believe that is what happened.

The alternative is this: that she intended all along to sentence my client to a nickel, but used him, his wife, and his family to teach the other defendants in the audience a lesson about timeliness. If so, then instead of a moment of ill-considered meanness the judge is guilty of deliberate cruelty. That is not impossible; I just choose not to believe it.

About Mark Bennett

Mark Bennett got his letter of marque from the Supreme Court of Texas in May 1995. He is famous for having no sense of humor when it comes to totalitarianism.
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9 Responses to Why You Gotta Be So…Mean?

  1. Nancy Knox-Bierman says:

    This happened to me last year and Judge Reagin not only let it stand, but turned to me, sighed and then asked to no one in particular “why do they dress like that?”

  2. Robert Fickman says:

    Justice must always be tempered with mercy.
    That rule is frequently forgotten in “Criminal” justice Center.

    Being 15 minutes late is not worth sending anyone to prison for an additional year. Particularly in a Courthouse which was designed without any regard to the presumptively innocent. Clients have to Damn near fight their way through lines, security, more lines, crowded stinkin elevators, crowded floors into crammed courtrooms where they are greeted by open hostility by 90% of the court personnel

    Gee, I wonder how the accused would be treated if they were presumed GUILTY? Shot on sight?

    Are some of the Harris County Judges cruel, heartless, arbitrary, capriscious, mean, crazy, insane with power, viscious, cowardly, lazy and stupid?

    I am glad ” wisdom prevailed”. How very rare.

    Robb Fickman
    Loved by all Judges

  3. Scott Hagaman says:

    >>The deal was that if he didn’t show up on the appointed day the judge could con­sider the full (five-to-life) range of punishment.

    But he showed up on the appointed day.

    Was the deal instead that he must show up at some appointed time?

  4. Justin T. says:

    I suppose it could’ve been worse; he could’ve gotten 20 years for missing court.

    http://disc.yourwebapps.com/discussion.cgi?disc=219621;article=43714;

    Apologies for the source, it’s a copy of the Waco Trib article which is now apparently missing.

    tl;dr- Matt Johnson is a dick.

    • Mark Bennett says:

      When a judge rejects a plea agreement, a defendant has the right to withdraw a guilty plea and start over.
      That is, unless he fails to appear for his court date, which is what Young did.
      In that case, a judge is not bound to follow the recommendations in the plea agreement as long as he stays within the statutory limits.

      I don’t think that’s the law.

  5. Ron in Houston says:

    Didn’t you recently have an article on psychopathy/sociopathy? Seems that what we have here is a distinct lack of empathy.

    Anyway, you’ve got my vote.

  6. bryan simmons says:

    I had a similar situation with a couple stacked sentences in a case that really didn’t scream for cumulation –at sentencing (jury had given 11-11-11) two were stacked; one was cc. That was Friday. On Monday morning in my fax was an order dated Saturday withdrawing the cumulation. I think he probably started thinking on the drive home and went in and changed the order to reflect his change of mind. I know it surprised the DA. I fall into that old trap sometimes of forgetting that (most) judges are human beings too and (most) try to do what they think is fair and right. They just can’t help but be wrong sometimes, I guess. But then there’s the ones who must be escaped mental patients, cause no rational human would act and mistreat people the way some of judges I have known do. And I have practiced and tried cases in the courtrooms of both Sam Kent AND Jack Skeen, so I know unhinged jurists when I meet them.

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