What happens when a judge is having a bad day and they take it out on your constitutional rights? We have to hope that judges higher up remember.
Last week, something like that happened when the District of Columbia Court of appeals reversed a lower court Judge’s decision to violate a defendant’s rights because she was ticked off.
According to, The BLT; The Blog of Legal Times:
In view of the judge’s comments, there is a reasonable likelihood that she punished appellant for invoking his Sixth Amendment right to confrontation,” the court found.
At issue is that line in the Sixth Amendment about an accused individual’s right “to be confronted with the witnesses against them.”
Accused of drug possession, defendant Bobby Thorne went to trial in January 2012. Ordinarily, the evidence in cases like this includes items seized by the police and a sworn statement by a government chemist that the substances tested positive for some illegal drug.
It is a defendant’s constitutional right to actually question the chemist to see whether the tests were done improperly enough to raise reasonable doubt about their accuracy.
It is tedious testimony to sit through, and usually the testing is done correctly. Ultimately, that means that there is no on-the-ground difference in the outcome of the proceedings except that court time is eaten up tending to a red herring while a government employee collect taxpayer’s money for doing something he’s not primarily paid for.
Perhaps this is what was on Judge Jennifer Anderson’s mind. For when Thorne’s attorney indicated that she would challenge the government chemist, Judge Anderson apparently was not too pleased. The defendant had a right to confront the chemist; she begrudged, but warned that when it came time for sentencing, she would “take all these things in account.” She found him guilty after the trial had run its course, and sure enough, she sentenced Bobby Thorne to the maximum penalty.
Then the case went to the DC court of Appeals, which smacked down Judge Anderson’s decision. In a two-page order this past Friday, a three-member panel District of Columbia Court of Appeals cancelled the sentence. In light of what Anderson said about confronting a government witness, the panel found that there is a
reasonable likelihood that she punished appellant for invoking his Sixth Amendment right of confrontation.
The Court paraphrased a line from a U.S. Supreme Court case that has been the law of the land for over forty years:
Penalizing those who choose to exercise constitutional rights is patently unconstitutional.” The court then looked to its own precedent: “The augmentation of sentence based on a defendant’s decision to stand on his right to put the Government to its proof rather than plead guilty is clearly improper.
With that, the Court of Appeals sent the case back down to Superior Court, with orders that a different judge redo the sentencing.
Here is what makes me heartsick about this. Yesterday, we remembered the last full measure of devotion that means our freedoms persist. Men and women die defending our rights, the right to confront witnesses included. Was Judge Anderson thinking of that when she tread on Bobby Thorne’s sixth Amendment Rights?
As Sarah Jones pointed out her in poignant Memorial Day post yesterday, protecting our rights, be it in war or in the courtroom is a constant effort. Of course, there are profound differences such as the sacrifices involved in war. Still, protecting our rights is a constant effort This is something we should remember every day.
Image from Stu’s views