Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Harsh Sex Sentence

By Stephen Wilson

            But I had to go to the trial to see how the lawyers and other court functionaries committed legal murder. The image of Cathies's naked body floated before me, like Macbeth's dagger.

            But during the trial neither the victim nor the murderers would dream of taking their clothes off. Too bad. The thought was more than amusing. The judge would be an old man. He would lose all dignity if he were forced to perform without his majestic trappings. His skinniness, his obesity perhaps, would give lie to the odour of righteousness. The crowd would laugh at his pomposity and shout down the brutality of his sentence. All judges, it occurred to me, all lawyers and lawyers ' clerks ought to be forced to try their case in the nude. The naked truth. In this context it would be more than a metaphor. It was doubtful if they would be able to convict anyone. Their voices, reflecting the all-too-human
evidence of the naked postures, would lack conviction'.

            From the novel, Young Adam, by Alexander Trocchi, 2003.

            A retired Judge , Ernest Jones Jr, claims to have found 'inconsistencies ' in two recent well known legal rulings
by the Circuit judge Glenn Shelby. The judge strongly
criticised and challenged the huge discrepancy between
a drunken driver who received a 12 year sentence for
accidently killing a pregnant girl , and a 22 year sentence
handed out to the teacher Jennifer Fichter , who had
faced 37 sex charges for having illicit sex with 3 17-year-old students. The 'reasoning' used by the judge in such a case raises many questions about the very philosophy and logic exercised in such rulings.

            It indicates the American legal system lacks a clear,
coherent and consistent way of judging the accused.

            There is no consensus as to what  constitutes a rational way of reaching a verdict in legal cases.The case begs the question, 'Whose justice, whose rationality ?' Or rather in the Jennifer Fichter case ' Whose morals, Whose religion?'

           Ernest Jones claims he would have handled the Fichter case in an entirely different way. For a start , he considers the jail sentence too long. He would have sentenced Fichter to little prison time and " probably alot of probation".  Jones also pointed out his sentencing in such a case would be influenced by the number of teenagers Fichter had encountered.

           Jones finds that the degree of punishment handed out by Shelby in two cases varies inconsistently. Why is it that
Thomas Dick , a 40 year old man obtained 12 years in
prison for crashing into a van and killing a teenager and
her unborn child while he was drunk , while Jennifer Fichter
who killed nobody, received a draconian sentence of 22 years?

           Jones appears to hold strong reservations as to whether this punishment  serves any useful purpose. He states, 'We have too many people in prison who don't need to be there. There are other ways to send a message to the public and 'punish' an offender who doesn't pose a serious threat to the public short of incarceration'.  However , it is worth noting that it is not just the heavy sentence which raised eye-brows but the very rulings of the judge .


           The recorded speech of those court cases suggest the sentencing was influenced by the religion of both the judge and accused and not any sense of real fair play. A person's religion should have no bearing on any serious court ruling. For instance, in one case, Shelby told Fichter ' I trust your faith is real....You 'll have a long time to vet your faith in your life and so when you come out you 're a different person.' References to the accused person's faith or religion came up again and again in not only the Fichter's case but in the drunken driver case.

           Shelby spoke about faith again before dozens of members of the Bartow Assembly of God church just as he was sentencing Dick. The members of this church testified that Dick was remorseful about his crime as 'He is a good Christian who is more concerned about others than himself ', stated a pastor from the church of Frostproof. Shelby was so so moved by the church's support he even wept, confessing that the testimony was 'very moving. I know I've never had a case where as many people express remorse, I believe you are very remorseful'.

           Shelby was then sentenced to 12 years, which was 8 years less than the 20 years proposed by the State Attorney's office. Unfortunately Fichter was not a member of this church or considered a remorseful Christian but a 'serial
predator who went on and on'. In fact , Fichter's sentence
has been considered a 'light sentence'. This begs the
question as to what 'a heavy sentence is'? Not content
with sentencing the poor teacher to 22 years in prison, she
still faces further charges from another school and another
hearing. Fichter faces three related charges of having illicit sex at a school in which she previously taught in Hillsborough county.

           However, Fichter and other accused teachers have galvanised and gathered a rising wave of support throughout America and Russia. Petitions and the latest publically expressed reservations by a former retired judge ought to help her case if not in the short term , then eventually. So there is still light at the end of the tunnel!


           The rulings in those cases makes you wonder whether judges are obliged to follow any guidelines or laid out criteria. Many people want to evaluate the practise of teachers but when it comes to questioning the training, performance and activities of judges it is a different matter. In fact, one wonders whether those judges are accountable to anyone. The latest rulings could be challenged on two grounds . Firstly, the American Bill of Rights declares all American citizens have the right to a fair trial by jury and protection against ' cruel and unusual punishment'. Jennifer Fichter got no protection from cruel and unusual punishment.'

           The second point is that according to the American constitution religion and the state must be strictly separate. This rule is especially relevant in legal cases. This rule has been grossly violated in two of Shelby's cases. A perceived person's moral or religious beliefs should have no bearing on sentencing.

           So the Jennifer Fichter sentence represents a serious, not minor, miscarriage of justice. It would therefore be in the
interests of the American public to not only drop further charges against the accused, but to released the accused on probation.

           Incidently, passing such a legal measure is possible under Scottish Law  in order to protect the integrity of the legal system as well as to better serve the public interest.

           It is evident to anyone with the least practical common sense that Fichter and many other imprisoned teachers such as Brainne, don't represent a dangerous threat to the public.

           The cases should be reviewed and a lot of radical rethinking done about sentencing.

1 comment:

  1. Please join us at to help Jennifer.