Judge Can’t Add 6 Years to a Prison Sentence Because the Defendant Called Him Names, Says Court
Calling judge a “racist ass bitch” doesn’t justify six more years in prison, says Ohio’s high court. Criminal defendants have a right to curse at judges without getting years tacked on to their prison sentences. That seems like it shouldn’t be controversial, right? But somehow, the matter went all the way to the state Supreme Court, after an appeals court upheld a trial judge’s decision to add six years to a man’s sentence for calling the trial judge names.
Now, the Ohio Supreme Court has reversed the lower court’s decision and ruled that the defendant cussing out the judge couldn’t factor into the judge’s sentencing decision.
The case involves Lake County Common Pleas Court Judge Eugene Lucci and defendant Manson Bryant, whom a jury convicted of aggravated burglary and aggravated robbery for participating in a group effort to rob a man in his home at gunpoint.
Lucci initially ruled that Bryant should spend 22 years in prison for his crimes—an already steep sentence that seems somewhat emblematic of what’s wrong with criminal justice in this country. (The judge imposed a 12-year sentence on his co-defendant, but gave Bryant more based on the fact that he had prior criminal convictions.)
Understandably, Bryant was not pleased. And he reacted emotionally. “Twenty-two years? Man, fuck your courtroom, you racist ass bitch,” he said, per an Ohio 19 News article at the time of his sentencing. “Fuck your courtroom, man. You racist as fuck. Twenty-two fucking years? Racist ass bitch. You ain’t shit.”
“You never gave me probation,” Bryant added, according to Cleveland.com. “You never gave me a chance.”
Upon hearing all this, Lucci added another six years to Bryant’s sentence, imposing the maximum penalty allowed. The judge justified this decision by saying that Bryant’s outburst showed he lacked remorse.
“Actually, actually … you know what,” said Lucci, according to 19 News. “Remember when I said that you had some remorse? When I said that you had a certain amount of remorse, I was mistaken. The court determines that maximum imprisonment is needed. So that’s 28 years.”
Bryant appealed the sentencing decision. The Ohio 11th District Court of Appeals unanimously upheld it. But the Supreme Court has now reinstated the original 22-year sentence.
In a 4–3 decision, the Court noted that Bryant’s words for the judge were unrelated to his underlying crimes and therefore couldn’t be used to make decisions about his sentence for those crimes.
“If a defendant’s outburst or other courtroom misbehavior causes a significant disruption that obstructs the administration of justice, that behavior may be punishable as contempt of court,” wrote Justice Melody Stewart wrote for the majority. A contempt of court finding could have added 30 days to Bryant’s incarceration—not six years.
To say that Brytan’s outburst at Lucci showed he wasn’t remorseful for the robbery doesn’t make any legal sense, noted the justices:
There is no provision in the sentencing statutes that authorizes a trial
court to impose or increase a defendant’s prison sentence merely because the
defendant had an outburst or expressed himself in a profane and offensive way.
And while a defendant’s showing of remorse is a sentencing factor to be considered
by the trial court when applicable, it is hard to conceive of any honest and logical
assessment of Bryant’s outburst that could be construed as being motivated by, or
evincing, no remorse for his crimes. …
At bottom, no matter how one looks at this situation, the statements
that Bryant made to the trial court during his allocution and during his outburst
were nothing more than a plea for leniency based on his belief that he could be
rehabilitated if he were given a chance to overcome his drug addiction. … It would be ironic for the trial court to view Bryant’s outburst as an indication that he is likely to commit future crimes, which in turn warranted a six–year increase in the sentence in order to protect the public, when the plain purpose behind Bryant’s statements was to
communicate his disbelief that he received a 22–year sentence, thereby not affording him a meaningful opportunity to reenter society as a law-abiding citizen after rehabilitation.
They added: “Trial-court judges do ge
Article from Reason.com