The Bill of Rights (Sixth Amendment) guarantees Americans the right to be judged by a jury, but a headline in today’s San Antonio Express-News casts doubt on that right – “High-profile defendant gets jail, despite probation verdict.”
And this is not the first time this has happened. I recall a similar incident occurring a couple of weeks ago, again involving an intoxicated driver who was handed a probated sentence by a jury, only to have a judge overrule the jury and sentence the defendant to six months in jail. That particular judge, Lori Valenzuela, received effusive praise from the paper’s editorial board, presumably because it is on a witchhunt against drivers convicted of driving while intoxicated.
The judicial fiat reported today involved a 45-year-old flight attendant, Julie Ann Bronson, whose drunk driving resulted in injuries to three pedestrians. Like her like-minded colleague Valenzuela, Judge Melisa Skinner punished Bronson with six months in jail. According to the newspaper article, six months of jail time is the “maximum possible jail time given the jury’s probation order.” Huh? If the jury orders probation, why should the judge be able to order jail time?
I find this result offensive, not only because it denies people their right to be judged by a jury, but also because it exposes individuals to the liberal lynch mob that is intent on imposing its will on the American people. This mob wants to lock up and throw away the key whenever someone is convicted of intoxicated driving. The American people, however, choose to be more discerning by looking at each violation on its own facts (including consideration of the victim’s impact statement). In the case of Julie Ann Bronson, the jury decided that justice would best be served by imposing a ten-year probated sentence.
Although today’s newspaper article fails to provide any extenuating circumstances, an earlier article does so in spades:
- The facts. “Bronson admitted during the trial that she had about five or six glasses of wine in a three hour period before going to bed early on April 23, 2009. A test taken two hours after the wreck showed her to have a blood alcohol level of 0.19 — over twice the legal limit.”
- The defense. “But jurors couldn’t determine the sleep-deprived flight attendant’s sentence without first taking into consideration her prescription for the sleep drug Ambien, which has been known to cause sleep-driving episodes, defense attorney Patrick Hancock argued during closing arguments. ‘She never intended to cause the hell these people have gone through,’ Hancock said. ‘Julie was not the drunk leaving the bar who decided to use her motor vehicle … perhaps over the objections of friends.’ Hancock reminded jurors repeatedly that his client was arrested barefoot and in her sleeping clothes. She went to bed that night and woke up panicked in a jail cell, he said. ‘Her only fault was to try to go to bed,’ he said.”
- The prosecution. “Prosecutors Tamara Strauch and Charles Rich didn’t dispute the sleep-driving theory. Her strange behavior included leaving the gated North Side community and driving five miles on the bare rims of her convertible, causing a trail of smoke and sparks. But it was still her choice to put the community at risk by taking two Ambien pills after getting drunk, Strauch said.”
Based on those facts and arguments, I am not surprised that a jury would decided on probation instead of jail time. Indeed, only an unthinking, ivory-tower ideologue would think that justice would be served by sending Bronson to prison.
All of this reminds me a little of Roe v. Wade, where the courts decided they know better than the people. And because this judicial activism corresponds with the view of the liberal media, I suspect the media and its ilk will again congratulate a judge. I call what she did inappropriate grandstanding by a judge who is supposed to apply the law, not override it.