Monday, August 19, 2013

Federal judge takes advice from colleagues

A federal judge surprised me last week when he said that he and other federal judges review each others' cases and indicate the sentence they would issue.
I’ve never heard a judge say that, or even heard of a judge doing that.
Judge Arthur Tarnow in Detroit admitted as much from the bench last Wednesday in the sentencing of Gregory Austin for production of child pornography. Tarnow went below the sentencing guideline range of roughly 27 to 34 years in sentencing Austin to 15 years, the mandatory minimum established by Congress.
During comments from the bench, he revealed that other judges (I don’t recall if he said how many other judges reviewed the case but he seemed to infer it was a couple of fellow jurists) agreed 15 years was not only sufficient for Austin’s actions, but actually is a pretty harsh sentence.
“Fifteen years – they concluded in their experience that is a severe sentence” for that crime, a longer term than someone receives for manslaughter.
He seemed to indicate he would have gone below 15 years if he could have but didn’t want to “second guess Congress.”
“Congress has decided it is a very serious offense,” he said.
Austin’s behavior involved “catfishing,” tricking males aged 14 to 17 into sending him images of their genital via Facebook by posing as a sexy girl, “Julie.”
Making Austin’s actions particularly revolting was that he was a school teacher and preyed on former students he taught in elementary school.
Judge Tarnow pointed out Austin’s action will impact the victims the rest of their lives. It’s not clear whether Austin shared the images online, but the victims have to worry that he did.
I don’t necessarily see anything wrong with a judge seeking advice from colleagues on the bench, as long as the advisory judge has all the facts. But I wonder how common that is.


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