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Centre County Judges Should Use Creative Sentences to Deter Crime

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As a State College criminal defense lawyer, the majority of my cases are handled by Centre County judges, and many of my clients are Penn State students that have never been in trouble before. In dealing with such clients, I wish that the Centre County criminal cases would be handled by judges, district attorneys, and police officers, in more creative ways and have sentences and punishments imposed that not only deterred crime but also gave back to the community. Too much focus is currently placed on fines and convictions as opposed to rehabilitative punishments.

Creative Sentences From Ohio Judges

Two Ohio judges recently imposed unique sentences that were geared specifically to the individual involved and the criminal activity that occurred. In one case, a woman drove onto a sidewalk to bypass a stopped a school bus, and the bus driver videotaped the incident. And, for those that didn't happen to see the video, the woman didn't just partially drive on the sidewalk, her entire vehicle was on the sidewalk. It was a video that shocked probably everyone that saw it. Similar to the Scarlet Letter and public shaming, the judge ordered the woman to wear a sandwich board that said "Only an idiot would drive on the sidewalk to avoid a school bus" and stand on the street for two mornings.

In the other case, a woman was driving and failed to yield to an officer that was directing traffic, and her car struck the officer and injured him. The woman was charged with one felony and three misdemeanor assault charges. She was ultimately sentenced to one year of probation, but, as part of her sentence, she was required to make Thanksgiving dinner for three police officers that were placed on leave or unable to work. The creative sentence made the criminal defendant give back to the group of people that she injured and in a positive manner.

State College Aggravated Assault Case With Creative Sentence

I once represented a Penn State student that was extremely intoxicated after attending a Penn State football tailgate. The police summoned EMTs and an ambulance, but the client resisted being transported to the hospital and actually bit an EMT. In Pennsylvania, if a person inflicts a bodily injury against another person, he is charged with misdemeanor simple assault. However, Pennsylvania has created a list of people that get special protection under the law based upon their profession. If you assault one of the listed people, which includes police officers, EMTs, doctors, teachers, judges...., then a charge that is normally a misdemeanor simple assault is upgraded to a felony of aggravated assault.

In my State College assault case, since the client caused an injury to a listed person, he was charged with felony aggravated assault. The client was a Penn State student with no prior criminal record and the majority of his professional life ahead of him. A felony conviction would have substantially hindered his ability to enter the professional world upon his graduation from Penn State. I talked to the victim convinced him to support a resolution that would allow my client to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of simple assault instead of aggravated assault, and part of my offer to the victim was a requirement that my client complete community service at the emergency room of the local hospital on Penn State football weekends. This service would require my client to deal with people that were transported for public drunkenness and thereby deal with people in the same situation he found himself in not too long ago.

Repeat Underage Drinking Offender Gets Treatment

I represented a client that was a three-time Underage Drinking offender in State College, and, after talking to the client's mother, it was clear that the client had alcohol addiction or abuse issues. I was able to convince the arresting officer to agree to a favorable outcome in exchange for the client attending counseling. Not only did the client attend rehabilitative programs and thereby received a more lenient resolution of his charges, but he actually changed his life. The client's mother told me that she had gotten back the son that she lost a few years ago.

In my opinion, creative sentences and agreements can be used in the Centre County criminal system to help the criminal defendant learn from his mistakes, rehabilitate the offenders, but also give back to the community. Some Centre County judges are willing to impose community service in exchange for more lenient punishments. However, with the recent increase in the maximum permissible sentence for Underage Drinking and Public Drunkenness, I fear that our community is pushing for increased fines as opposed to creative sentences. Does a person learn more from paying fines, or is it a better deterrent to force the person to give back to the group that he injured via community service or possibly carry a sandwich board that embarrasses the person?

2 Comments

Great article. I wish I read more things like this from defense attorneys, but especially public servants who make and enforce the laws.

Apart from sociological studies, everyday observation and even common sense give pretty undeniable testimony that increasing prison terms and fines for crimes is not a deterrent for those crimes and only creates more, sometimes deeper, problems. The general population has no clue what crimes are punishable by what punishments and if or when any of those penalties have changed. The average person's understanding of our legal system comes from what they see on CSI Miami or other fictitious dramas.

I say let the crime fit the punishment with an eye to a resolution of any wounds and prevention of any repeat offense. Just as tort law is supposed to make the victim "whole", I believe that ideology should be the framework of our penal law. That will only happen, though, as people understand that government is not God and there is no such thing as "justice", as so many so carelessly proclaim will be served by locking every trespasser in a metal box. Is our goal simply to punish or to prevent crime and have a peaceful society? Is the latter, how is a blanket approach anything but insane?

The accounts of creative sentencing from your own practice are great. Would like to hear if the judge ended up ok'ing your proposition in the first example.

In my Aggravated Assault case involving the bite to the EMT, I was able to get the resolution that I wanted, namely a plea to a misdemeanor offense of Simple Assault for probation. Somewhat fortunate for me, the EMT happened to have been young and dumb at one point, gotten into some trouble himself, and was thereby receptive to giving a young person a second chance. Because I had the support of the victim, I was then able to convince the Centre County District Attorney to issue the hoped for plea offer, and the Centre County judge accepted the agreements.

Thanks for reading my blog and for the posting the comment.

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