Press "Enter" to skip to content

There is a line between justice and revenge. The judge of Larry Nassar crossed it.

Rosemarie Aquilina, the judge who presided over the astonishing sentencing hearing of former United States gymnastics physician Larry Nassar this month, has become a heroine for victims of sexual assault.

His decision to allow 156 women and girls to address their alleged abuser in court, with his moving testimony broadcast live across the country, created an invaluable opportunity for catharsis and directed vital attention to what is likely to be the the worst sexual abuse scandal in US sports history. UU .

But Aquilina's attitude during the sentence, in which she said she had the honor of condemning Nassar to death in prison and suggested that he deserved to be sexually assaulted , has raised doubts about whether she exceeded her role as an impartial arbiter of justice.

It is not unusual for judges to use emotional language during sentencing or to offer their frank opinion about the atrocious person they believe is the accused, depending on his criminal behavior. That is not incompatible with impartiality, provided that the opinion of the judge is extracted from the relevant facts in the case, and not external factors, such as the race of a defendant.

In 2013, when Judge Michael Russo gave Ariel Castro – who kidnapped and sexually assaulted three women – a life sentence without parole plus 1,000 years in prison, he told Castro that his crimes were so serious that he should never live among the general public again. "You do not deserve to be out in our community," Russo said. "You are too dangerous."

Judge John Cleland, who in 2012 sentenced Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky to 30 to 60 years in prison for sexually abusing 10 children, He said that because of Sandusky's age, he would be in prison for the rest of his life. "You abused the trust of those who trusted you, these are not crimes against strangers, they are much worse," Cleland said. "Crime is not only what you did to your bodies, but your assault on the safety and well-being of the community in which we all live"

But Aquilina's comments were unusual in how fiercely she defended the victims during the four-day sentencing hearing, emerging more as an advocate than a dispassionate judge.

"I have the honor and the privilege of condemning him, because, sir, you do not deserve to walk out of prison anymore," he told Nassar on Wednesday when He was sent to prison for 40 to 175 years. "I just signed his death sentence." He also went so far as to suggest that he deserved to experience the pain of sexual abuse on his own.

On the first day of the hearing, he reflected on allowing "many people" to sexually assault Nassar if he was allowed to do so.

"Our Constitution does not allow cruel and unusual punishment," he said. "If it happened, I have to say, I could allow what you did to all these beautiful souls, these young people in your childhood, allow some or many people to do what they did to others" . ]

Nassar's case comes at a unique and tense moment, which could explain Aquilina's vehemence and thirst for blood, though he does not necessarily apologize. The country is in the midst of a count of sexual harassment and abuse, mainly committed by men and women, with the #MeToo movement dominating the headlines and public discourse.

Charles Gardner Geyh, a law professor at Indiana University's Maurer Law School, whose work focuses on judicial conduct and ethics, sympathized with Aquilina's experience, but said he believes his behavior was wrong example.

"The general principle, which is embedded in the code of conduct of every state, is that a judge will act at all times in a manner that promotes the public confidence in the impartiality, integrity and independence of the judiciary, "he said.

Suggesting that it would be appropriate for Nassar to be sexually victimized, if the law allowed, was "a step too far," Geyh continued. "She is the representative of the government here," he said. "From the perspective of the law, we should say that there was no sexual assault at all."

Brenda Smith, teacher of At the American University in Washington, DC, and a national expert on prison rapes, she said Aquilina's comments about sexual abuse were shocking.

"They are unfortunate in the least, and could be perceived as an invitation at worst," he said, noting that criminals convicted of sex crimes face higher rates of sexual abuse behind bars. According to a survey 2011-2012 conducted by the Office of Justice Statistics imprisoned sex offenders reported having been victims of other sex inmates in a greater proportion than those arrested for other crimes.

Aquilina's comments send a mixed message about sexual abuse, Smith said.

"She says that sexual assault is wrong … except as a retribution," he said. "The reality is that no one deserves to be victimized." His comments suggest that in such cases, it would be appropriate, in some way, for people like Nassar to be victimized in custody. "

Other experts in legal ethics were divided on the appropriateness of Aquilina's behavior.

Robert Schuwerk, professor emeritus of the University of Houston Law Center, said he would not recommend that judges make comments like Aquilina's. Still, he said, his comments seemed to be an honest reaction to hearing the heart-rending testimony of so many women.

"The judge was deeply moved by the stories he heard," Schuwerk said. "She was very angry at Nassar when she heard all the testimony, and expressed her anger."

She said she did not believe that her behavior posed any legal problem.

Stephen Gillers, a professor at New York University and an expert in legal ethics, agreed. Aquilina's comments about the cruel and unusual punishment were inadvisable, he said, but they are not unethical or a basis for a new sentence.

"It was probably the product of the overwhelming evidence of Nassar's depravity," he said.

Gillers noted that in 1994, the Supreme Court recognized that a judge may, "upon completion of the evidence, be excessively ill-disposed towards the accused, who has proved to be a completely reprehensible person. " "

" While what the judge said is quite strong, it is not wrong, "Gillers said." In the ruling, the judges speak the conscience of the community on behalf of the victim. They are no longer arbitrators, which is their role during the tests. "

Jonathan Jacobs, director of the Criminal Justice Institute of the John Jay Criminal Justice School, said he was surprised by Aquilina's observations on the Eighth Amendment, given her long-standing experience. (She was elected to the 30th Circuit Court in Ingham County, Michigan, in 2008)

Jacobs said that his comments could be interpreted as a kind of animosity towards the defendant, and he speculated that Nassar's lawyers might try to use the comment to gain influence on any appeal that do.

Punishments should not be "driven primarily by revenge," Jacobs said. While it is not realistic to expect judges to have no feelings, they should notto be simply directed by them.

"Maybe there was a moment of indiscipline there," Jacobs said. "On the other hand, it was clear that the judge wanted to support the victims appropriately, was clearly respecting their feelings and taking very seriously the way they were wounded."

Be First to Comment

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *