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November 16, 2008

Does Mommy not-so-dearest merit an extra harsh sentence?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new article from the New York Times.  The piece is headlined "Seeing Failure as Mother as Factor in Sentencing," and here are some excerpts:

As the prosecutor asked the judge to impose a long prison sentence, she used the word twice: “Mommy.”  The “mommy” she was referring to was Nixzaliz Santiago, who last week received a sentence of to 40 1/3 to 43 years in prison, the maximum term, for her part in the death of her 7-year-old daughter, Nixzmary Brown.

The prosecutor, Ama Dwimoh, said Ms. Santiago was the “one person” who the little girl should have been able to count on. “She called her ‘Mommy,’ ” Ms. Dwimoh told the judge. The word weighed heavily on a trial already filled with horrific details of abuse.

Justice Patricia M. DiMango, of State Supreme Court in Brooklyn, spoke of sleepless nights while contemplating a sentence. That sentence could keep Ms. Santiago, 30, in prison for up to 17 years longer than her husband, Cesar Rodriguez, 30, Nixzmary’s stepfather, who delivered the fatal beating and was sentenced in April by Justice L. Priscilla Hall to 26 1/3 to 29 years.

Justice DiMango said that Ms. Santiago, who was convicted of manslaughter and two counts of assault but acquitted of murder, had ignored her lawful obligation as a parent to try to save the dying child. But the wide gap between the sentences raised questions about whether Ms. Santiago shouldered an extra burden as she faced judge and jury: the duty to be a good mother....

B. Keith Crew, a professor of sociology and criminology at the University of Northern Iowa who has researched gender and racial differences in criminal sentencing, says that women who are not perceived as good mothers often “get the hammer” in sentencing. “There’s a sacredness about the role of mother,” he said. “When a woman is not fulfilling her role, it shocks the conscience, more than if she commits a crime. If she was prostituting herself or dealing drugs or stealing to feed, clothe and shelter her children, people would be more sympathetic.”...

Katherine M. Franke, the director of Columbia Law School’s Program in Gender and Sexuality Law, said Ms. Santiago’s sentence reinforced simple notions of parental roles, with men perceived as more violent and women as saddled with “all the obligations and responsibility — and ultimately the punishment — for what happens to their children.”

November 16, 2008 at 09:56 PM | Permalink


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Oh good God. This hand-wringing is ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous. This woman, under a legal duty to protect her child, allowed her husband to torture and ultimately kill her child. Nixzmary Brown was subjected to a life of scarcely paralleled cruelty, and she ultimately died as a result. And people are upset because her mother got 40 years?

And since when are criminals entitled to some sort of cosmic fairness? Yeah, I guess it sucks that the actually killer got more time. But are we really going to give criminals lenience simply because a co-defendant got a sympathetic jury? That seems to be unfair to victims. Guess what--don't ket your husband torture your kid over a long period of time and then you won't have to worry about him getting less time than you do.

Posted by: federalist | Nov 17, 2008 11:44:59 AM

Let's be honest that this is just media sensationalism about a terrible case. Many women who are mothers are convicted and jailed each year, and no one in the CJ system makes a big deal out of the fact they are mothers. The article had a lot of huffing and puffing but missing was any evidence that the fact she was a mother either lead to the jury's conviction or to a longer sentence. Coincidence does not equal causation.

Posted by: Daniel | Nov 17, 2008 4:32:29 PM

I think that people were looking at the fact that the "actual killer" got less time than the mom and then those people posited some larger cause to latch onto.

Posted by: federalist | Nov 17, 2008 7:56:14 PM

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