Earlier this month, an appeals court ruled that a 20-year prison sentence given to a sex offender was too harsh and that he needs to be re-sentenced. The man was convicted of traveling to Illinois to have sex with a 15-year-old boy.
The man was sentenced by a judge in the Southern District of Illinois (federal trial court) who apparently based his decision on his personal opinion that the guy had committed prior offenses and would do so again if released from prison too soon.
Apparently, the judge didn't even try to hide his reasoning or pretend there was a proper basis for this extreme sentence (a typical sentence is somewhere around five years and this guy got 20). The judge basically said that he believed the man was a repeat offender who just didn't get caught until now, and further, he wanted to send a message to other pedophiles.
Although child pornography was found on the man's computer, he had no previous criminal record. The guy was only convicted on the incident mentioned above. You don't have to be a legal expert to know that increasing his sentence based on a judge's gut feeling is not the way it's supposed to work.
It is not out of bounds to consider the possession of child pornography in sentencing this guy. And one of the purposes of putting him in prison is to deter others from committing the same crime, so deterrence is a valid consideration as well. There is some room for judicial discretion - a judge can consider the nature and circumstances of the crime when sentencing someone. But it's pretty clear this judge used a little too much discretion.
The federal appeals court said the sentencing violated the man's right to due process and that the re-sentencing will be handled by a different judge this time around.
Twenty years in prison for a sex offense against a child does not seem particularly harsh to me, I must admit. But I do have a problem with rogue judges. Our system isn't perfect, and maybe this judge recognized that and was trying to do something good in his mind, but it's a slippery slope. If sentences for sex offenders need to be harsher, then laws need to be rewritten. Easier said than done, I know, but sentencing free-for-alls set a dangerous precedent. All that said, if I'm picking a legal fight over sentencing harshness, this is not where I'd start.
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