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He Said He’d Never, Never Do It Again

June 24th, 2009 · 1 Comment

There are, obviously, a number of infuriating things about the news that Chicago cop Anthony Abbate has been sentenced to probation after being caught on video beating up a (much smaller) bartender who had refused to serve him. But this really twists the knife:

Judge John Fleming said he decided against jail because he did not believe the crime was serious enough and throwing Abbate behind bars would not be a deterrent to others.

“If I believed that sending Anthony Abbate to prison would stop people from getting drunk and hitting other people, I’d sentence him to the maximum,” the judge said. “But I don’t believe that is the case.”

The “maximum” in this case is five years. The bartender appears to have suffered some fairly serious psychological trauma as a result of the beating, but the judge said that her physical injuries were—miraculously, given what’s seen on the tape—not especially severe. If it’s really true that any old drunk who did the same thing would get probation for a comparable act, that’s one thign. But the claim that a harsher sentence wouldn’t serve any detterent effect is harder to fathom. This is one more highly publicized case that sends an unambiguous signal: If you’re in law enforcement, the system will protect you. In the rare instances where proof of guilt is so unambiguous—and so widely viewed—that a trial and conviciton becomes inevitable, you can trust you’ll get a slap on the wrist at worst. Drunk as he was, I suspect that Abbate might at least have thought twice if he believed he lived in a world where cops who pummel civilians go to jail like any other street thug. Precisely because of that difference in expectation, I’d assume that a moderately stiff sentence in this case would acutally have a dramatically greater deterrent effect, at the margin, than the same penalty for an ordinary crook.

Tags: Law



1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Patrick // Jun 24, 2009 at 5:17 pm

    Justice reform is an issue I’m somewhat interested in, and reducing punishment for crimes is something I’m in favor of. I’m not too sure if this is an outcome that is positive though, since punishment reform is not punishment abandonment. Still it encouraged me to go use google-foo to find out if it’s part of a larger pattern.

    I was only able to find one other case by Fleming (A securities fraud case), and it didn’t tell me much. It’s possible this is even a product of the times, where due to over crowding and limited budgets, judges may be under pressure to reduce sentences.
    It could also be corruption. Since he’s a floater that fills in for other judges, there’s just not a lot of data available on the web and lawyers don’t have a consistent track record with him to get a solid feel.

    Wish we had a larger pattern to look at. The evidence does not necessarily point to corruption, the judge could honestly believe in not assigning out punishment where it does nothing, only be looking at a pattern of his previous cases can we see if this is the case. If it is, then I say it’s a ballsy interpretation of the law and justice in general, and while it would result in outcomes like this that aren’t always preferable, it is better for society as a whole if our judges refused to assign out punishment that does nothing just because punishment can be assigned.

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