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Prosecution Is Not The President’s Job

Maybe it’s my law school training, but I must admit that I have been a long-time believer in giving judges significant discretion when it comes to sentencing and the administration of our criminal laws.

Recently, a judge in New York was criticized in the sentencing of former Congressman Chris Collins’ son who was not given jail time. The former Congressman himself was convicted and sentenced to 26 months in prison for his insider trading in a publicly traded company where he was serving on the Board of Directors. (Directors of such corporations are strictly forbidden to share insider information which could affect a company’s stock price.)

Relative to Collin’s son (who actually profited from this information,) I agreed with the judge that he not be given jail time. It was his father who had violated the law and the son was responding to his father’s suggestion that the stock be sold. The real culprit was Collins–not his son. The judge gave the son a significant sentence in probation and a stiff fine, but did not impose a prison sentence. The judge had heard all of the evidence. He used his discretion properly in imposing a stiff sentence on the father but a lesser one upon the son.

Last year, the New York state Legislature abolished bail requirements for most non-violent offenders arrested for misdemeanors. I think most people believed that the state was in need of bail reform. What I found objectionable, however, is that the legislature also eliminated judicial discretion in such matters. In my view, if a judge has a repeat offender in his courtroom and is concerned about “flight” or “no show” risk on the part of the defendant–the judge should have the discretion to require bail or not.

Judges have been trained to implement fair and impartial justice. To take discretion away in such a “carte blanche” fashion is inexcusable. Our system of an independent judiciary has worked well over many years, and the idea that we should prohibit a judge from using discretion in making such decisions, is not the American way.

In the same manner, I was flabbergasted when President Trump recently jumped into the sentencing for his friend, Roger Stone. Stone, for decades, has been a self-proclaimed political “dirty trickster.” This time, his antics were found by a jury to be criminal in nature and the prosecution sought an extended jail sentence.

It is not the President of the United States’ job to jump into the middle of a criminal prosecution and start negotiating lower sentencing guidelines. Let the judge who heard the case make the decision on the circumstances that should or should not apply to Mr. Stone’s sentencing.

It is demeaning to the Presidency to have the President get involved in such matters. If the President feels that Mr. Stone has been poorly treated, he can invoke the Executive pardoning power given him by the Constitution. In the meantime, let the judicial system work, and let the judge who heard the case have the discretion to set a proper sentence for the crimes committed.

Rolland Kidder is a Stow resident.

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