Press accounts of criminal convictions and their consequences make for painful reading, especially for practicing lawyers and their clients. I've had more than one family say in exasperation something along the following lines: "I've seen murderers get less time. What can we do?"
I sometimes respond to such a comment by saying the following: "You should go hire the lawyer who got that deal."
They never do. The fact of the matter is that the press rarely gets the nuances of sentencing right. That's why we have judges and sentencing hearings. That's why defendants are subjected to evaluations and interviews by court officers and sometimes specialists before sentencing. That's why, in other words, it is hazardous to try cases in the press and then decry the results when they don't suit your agenda.
Law enforcement officers in New Hampshire are pouting this week about the sentence imposed on a man named Patrick Roddy, who pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography. He was arrested in February 2007. He plead guilty to two felony counts of possession of child pornography. The state sought a prison sentence of three to six years; the Court imposed a sentence of 142 days, with stringent conditions, including treatment as a sex offender, and, I presume, registration as a sex offender. Those 142 days were already spent behind bars as a pre-trial detainee when sentence was imposed. So Mr. Roddy walked out the courthouse door, although he is far from a free man.
Foster's Daily Democrat, a paper serving Southeastern New Hampshire and Southern Maine, plastered Mr. Roddy's picture in the paper and on its website. And lest anyone miss the point, the paper also published the last known addresses of the man. It also served as shill for local law enforcement.
"Mr. Roddy received a time-served jail sentence and a suspended prison sentence for his crimes against children," said Corey MacDonald of the New Hampshire Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. "This sends a clear message that we have yet to make the connection between child sexual abuse images and real child victims in our community." MacDonald claimed to speaking on behalf of some 33 law-enforcement affiliates.
That's is just stupid, and Mad, Mad MacDonald knows it.
Was MacDonald at the sentencing? Did he read presentence reports? Did he determine whether Mr. Roddy was a risk of re-offending? Or did MacDonald succumb to the sort of silliness than once inspired the film "Reefer Madness?" Why look at a picture and all hope is lost: it's a slippery and irrevocable slope from fantasy to rape!
The criminal justice system serves four goals as to any offender: specific deterrence, general deterrence, rehabilitation and punishment. Presumably, the judge in Mr. Roddy's case determined both that the man was deterred from similar misconduct in the future and that he was well on the way to rehabilitation. Spending five months in jail might not seem like punishment to Mr. MacDonald, but most of us would shudder at the loss of liberty, not to mention the stigmatization that comes of being labelled a sex offender in any community to which you might relocate.
The only conceivable reason to impose a longer sentence on Mr. Roddy is general deterrence. And that is Mad MacDonald's point: Crush a person with errant desire. But tell me, truly, will that change the desire, or simply make it harder to detect? I wonder whether folks defer the decision to seek treatment or help for fear of the consequences of honest.
Don't get me wrong. I do not favor the use of children in pornography. The images in Mr. Roddy's possession were shocking and repugnant. There is nothing about a seven- year-old's being forced to engage in sexual conduct of which any right-thinking person can approve. But I am as appalled by a one-size-fits-all-meat-cleaver type of justice. Whereas child pornography bespeaks of a perversion of desire, the sort of rage-inspired passion displayed by Corey MacDonald reflects a perversion of justice.
Who will hold Corey MacDonald accountable for his perversion?