Compassionate Judge Spends Night in Jail with Sentenced Veteran

As a criminal defense lawyer, I am before judges quite frequently for sentencing hearings. Because my law firm is located in State College, I represent a lot of Penn State students that get into trouble, often as a result of having a bit too much to drink. Most of my clients are good people at heart who made a bad decision and a few mistakes. They appear before a judge for sentencing, and it is up to the judge to determine a “fair and just” punishment. A sentence is supposed to act as a deterrent, so it must have some element of punishment. The severity of the punishment is up to the judge. The judge has the ability to take a person’s very freedom by imposing a jail sentence. Striking the balance and finding the appropriate punishment is not easy, and I do not envy the judge’s role in the system.

Veteran’s Court and Rehabilitative Court Judges

Judges normally do not get to know a defendant very well before imposing a sentence. The judge may have been provided with a sentencing memo, meaning a writing that explains a bit about the person’s life, possibly some supportive letter from friends and counselors, and the judge will listen to the lawyers and the person speak immediately before sentencing, but the judge’s interaction with the person is generally limited. After sentence is imposed, the judge generally has no follow up with the person unless the person violates the terms of the sentence.

The role of a judge that presides over a therapeutic or rehabilitative court, like a DUI, Drug, or Veteran’s Court, is much different. Such courts place a much greater emphasis on rehabilitation and less focus on punishment and, as part of a rehabilitation program, the person is held accountable. Part of being held accountable often requires more routine appearances before the judge for status reports. For example, the Centre County DUI Court program requires participants to appear before the judge every two weeks. Under such circumstances, the judge gets to know the facts and circumstances of the people over which he or she presides.

Judge Lou Olivera

Judge Lou Olivera, a North Carolina judge that presides over his county’s Veteran’s Court program, was recently put in the unwanted position of confronting one of the participants in his court that had violated the rules. While the rehabilitative courts do not focus on punishment, punishment is used when necessary. The man was before the judge because of a DUI offense, and the man had violated the terms of his sentence. The judge felt that it was best to sentence the man to 24 hours in jail. Nothing outside the norm, except the man had an unexpected cell mate that night in the form of the very judge that sentenced him. While the judge felt that the day in jail was what was required, the judge also felt that the decorated Green Beret, suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, should not be alone. According to an online article, not only did the judge drive the veteran to the jail, he also spent the night with the man in the one-person cell. The judge, a Gulf War vet, traded military stories with his fellow veteran.

The judge is quoted as saying “[t]hey have worn the uniform and we know they can be contributing members of society” and “[w]e just want to get them back there.” Efforts like those put forth by Judge Olivera help to get vets on their feet. Let’s keep this vet in our prayers and hope that the judge does not have to punish him again. Instead, hopefully the judge is able to congratulate the man on his successful completion of the Veteran’s Court Program.