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June 11, 2009

"Teen with 47 IQ gets 100 years in sex abuse case"

A helpful reader forwarded to me this article with the headline that appears in the title to this post.  Here are the particulars:

A teenager who has profound mental disabilities was sentenced to 100 years in prison after pleading guilty to charges in a sex abuse case involving his 6-year-old neighbor.

Aaron Hart, 18, of Paris, was arrested and charged after a neighbor found him fondling her stepson in September. The teen pleaded guilty to five counts, including aggravated sexual assault and indecency by contact, and a jury decided his punishment.

Lamar County Judge Eric Clifford decided to stack the sentences against Hart after jurors settled on two five-year terms and three 30-year terms, The Dallas Morning News reported Wednesday. The judge said neither he nor jurors liked the idea of prison for Hart but they felt there was no other option.

June 11, 2009 at 07:53 AM | Permalink

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Comments

One wonders at the mental health of the jurors and judge. Is education about mental health and disability really that lacking in the US? The last place this person is going to get any help or treatment is in prison.

Posted by: peter | Jun 11, 2009 8:21:32 AM

It is disheartening to see something like this happen, but I don't believe the Judge didn't like the idea of sending the defendant to prison. He chose to stack the sentences instead of allowing them to run concurrently. Unfortunately, TDCJ has had so many budget cuts that programs for the mentally ill and mentally retarded have really been severely limited.

Defense attorney

Posted by: Curtis | Jun 11, 2009 8:40:05 AM

How can someone this impared understand the court process? I would question the ability of such a defendant's ability to enter any plea or even assist in their defense. I understand that the state is likely under an obligation to put him somewhere, but this just seems like a waste.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Jun 11, 2009 10:57:45 AM

If his IQ is 47, he is clearly not competent to plead or even to be prosecuted - he would be in the lowest 1/10th percentile of the population. The judge and prosecutor should be well aware of that - the law on competence is neither new nor complex. If not, I question whether they have the common sense or intelligence to hold office. This is ridiculous.

Posted by: John Minock | Jun 11, 2009 1:37:14 PM

"District Attorney Gary Young said he sympathized with Hart's situation but stands by his decision to prosecute on five counts. Prosecutors commonly pursue several charges for a single incident to see which the jury will support."

In other words, which charges have sufficient evidence, so they stack the charges and overcharge and yet the charges, even if dropped or if found not guilty of them, can factor into sentencing. Mr. Young apparently didn't expect all of his charges to stick. It would be interesting to know how the plea negotiations went in this case.

A case like this questions the premise of these laws. While society obviously has a compelling interest in curbing sexual abuse, is molestation a fate worse than death? Should Hart's sentence be more severe than if he killed or maimed the child while driving a car? More important, the Rind study, condemned by Congress, found that the reactions to abuse can sometimes be more traumatic than the abuse itself. How much harm did "justice" do to this child and how difficult will it be for the child to deal with contributing to a 100 year sentence? Should a child grow up damaged enough to justify the sentence? Even more important, Beatings, not sexual abuse, turn child into a criminal. From a crime and punishment perspective, does the "brutalization effect" INCREASE crime? It is possible the extremely punitive could be the ones beating their children, for moral reasons, of course, and therefore predominantly contributing to the cycle of of all kinds of abuse. The solution could be the problem, from the family to state laws to federal laws. The punishment must fit the crime for good reason.

Posted by: George | Jun 11, 2009 2:40:55 PM

Such a draconian sentence for an 18-year-old with an IQ of 47 is barbaric. The defendant might as well have murdered the victim and cut him up into pieces. Will the prosecutors' mindless obsession with ever-longer punishments ever end? This kind of sentence perverts justice and makes a mockery of our system. See Gall v. U.S., 128 S.Ct. 586 (2007)(“a [draconian]sentence of imprisonment may work to promote not respect, but derision, of the law if the law if viewed as merely a means to dispense harsh punishment without taking into account the real conduct and circumstances involved in sentencing.”)

Posted by: Michael R. Levine | Jun 11, 2009 5:51:24 PM

If one is a child abuser the only rational response is to immediately kill the victim. A real life example of this is the recent case of George Ford, Jr. What's so sad about the case is that the conviction is hailed as justice. No, it's not justice. The girl is dead.

What is truly ironic about the case is that the prosecutor claimed during the trial that the reason Ford killed the girl was because he'd rather be in prison for murder than child abuse. And he's right. That is a convincing explanation of why someone would kill a child. And a society where such a statement is true is a society that truly has lost it's moral bearings.

In case you don't get it, the law sees molestation as a fate worse than death. There is a little dead 12 year old girl in NY as proof. And prosecutors are happy about that fact and call it justice. Sick sick sick.

Posted by: Daniel | Jun 11, 2009 7:03:56 PM

"And a society where such a statement is true is a society that truly has lost it's moral bearings."

Hyperbole doesn't do that statement justice. In a nation of 300 million, one guy decides, after molesting a girl, to kill her, and we are losing our bearings. Get a grip.

Posted by: federalist | Jun 11, 2009 7:17:20 PM

Daniel -- Please provide documentation for your claim that the prosecutors in the Ford case are "happy" (your word) that a 12 year-old girl was murdered. A charge that prosecutors harbor such appalling malevolence should be backed up by convincing proof. What would that be?

As to the case at hand, I agree with with the view, if not the language, of Mr. Haetir and Mr. Minock that it is unlikely the defendant was sufficiently compentent to stand trial. At the same time, he can't just be released. The six year-old's of the world deserve the law's protection too.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 11, 2009 7:57:56 PM

federalist. It is an example and a vivid one. If you don't think it's a problem maybe you need to do some reading yourself. I can't think of a single major victims rights group that doesn't share my concern. Many of them have testified before state legislatures opposing the death penalty for child rapists for the reasons I mentioned. On example of such a group is the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault.

Bill. Read the case and it's coverage. Lots of information is available on line. Jumping for joy at a child's death is the only rational way to understand the prosecutors public statement in this case.

Posted by: Daniel | Jun 11, 2009 9:06:04 PM

Sex abuse hysteria is feminist pretext to go after males. Their lawyer running dogs are in it for the rent. The court is bringing opprobrium on the justice system. The judge must be removed, and resign.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jun 11, 2009 10:02:38 PM

What's even worse about this particular case:

Assume a term like 10 years were given instead. Imagine this person trying to cope with the requirements of being a registered sex offender. He would be back in prison for failing to do something that he is actually incapable of doing.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Jun 11, 2009 10:04:04 PM

Soronel Haetir -- Having spent 18 years as an Assistant United States Attorney, I am quite sure that proof of actual inability to do X is a complete defense to a criminal charge to failure to do X.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 12, 2009 7:24:10 AM

Bill O: This kid with a cottonseed for a brain was unable to keep his paws off of a neighbor child, but his "inability" was not much of a defense. You would have learned more doing 18 years time somewhere else.

Posted by: mpb | Jun 12, 2009 8:19:03 AM

mpb -- "This kid with a cottonseed for a brain was unable to keep his paws off of a neighbor child, but his 'inability' was not much of a defense. You would have learned more doing 18 years time somewhere else."

1. At least I say what my legal experience has been. What's yours?

2. The notion that a career AUSA is a legal know-nothing might be a favorite of the bitter-end defense bar, but that's about it. The courts before which I practiced seemed to think I was OK. Since I give my real name here, you can go look up my cases to check it out.

Where should I go to look up yours?

3. If a point be made of it, the ability to (a) comply with legal (and thus to some extent bureaucratic, artificial and technical) reporting requirements involves a kind and degree of thinking more adult and sophisticated than the kind needed to (b) comply with the elementary rule of behavior, known by most people by the time they're eight years old, that you do not physically molest younger and smaller children. Perhaps the jury that heard the actual evidence was in a better position than you are to assess whether the defendant was in fact so mentally deficient that it was impossible for him to do (b).

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 12, 2009 10:24:58 AM

Given that he plead guilty but then had a jury sentencing phase, I have to wonder what information about the actual crime the jurors heard. I would have thought getting the jury out of sentencing would be a major part of any plea bargain.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Jun 12, 2009 10:29:21 AM

Bill Otis, surely you would concede that there is at least a colorable question here as to whether this kid was able to understand the consequences of his guilty plea, and whether he received competent assistance of counsel.

And surely you would concede that some prosecutors, even if you weren't one of them in your 18 years of practice, are perfectly happy to engage in "count-stacking" and getting the maximum sentence they can coax out of the court, regardless of whether it is just.

Posted by: Marc Shepherd | Jun 12, 2009 10:51:01 AM

Bill, if he had been found incompetent to stand trial, he would have been civilly committed for treatment - probably in a state hospital or "sex offender treatment program" (it could possibly be a forensics institution for the intellectually disabled, since a few states such as Maryland have them) which are often every bit as restrictive as a prison (and in some areas are more restrictive, although in other areas less) and probably for the rest of his life due to his being labeled a sex offender. I suspect that you know that since you're a smart guy, but to say that it is prison or nothing does not reflect reality. Even without a prison sentence, the odds of him ever being free again are minimal.

Not that those options are necessarily good in a case like this - but out of the potential options, prison is probably the worst one - especially since he is probably going to be subject to extreme abuse by the other prisoners.

Posted by: Zack | Jun 12, 2009 11:05:37 AM

Marc Shepherd -- As I said in the ninth comment on this thread, "I agree with the view, if not the language, of Mr. Haetir and Mr. Minock that it is unlikely the defendant [here] was sufficiently competent to stand trial."

"And surely you would concede that some prosecutors, even if you weren't one of them in your 18 years of practice, are perfectly happy to engage in 'count-stacking' and getting the maximum sentence they can coax out of the court, regardless of whether it is just."

The problem is that there isn't going to be any agreed definition of either "count-stacking" or "just." What is count-stacking in the eyes of defense counsel can be, in the eyes of the prosecutor, insurance against a compromise verdict or a partial appellate reversal. And what is "just" in the eyes of defense counsel will often be no sentence at all; anytime the accused goes to trial, by definition the defense's position is that no sentence whatever is warranted.

It is the nature of the beast that opposing counsel in ANY litigation have very different views of what is "just." Accordingly, arguments about why your opponent in any given case couldn't see that your view of justice was better almost always devolve into irreconcilable differences of ideology and temperment.


Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 12, 2009 11:53:25 AM

Mr. Otis, let's start at the beginning. In your expert opinion, and you are an expert, do ADA's stack charges and overcharge for the sake of plea bargaining advantage or not? How would you imagine the barter process went in this case and do you think the defendant understood it well enough?

Posted by: George | Jun 12, 2009 11:56:25 AM

Bill Otis: "What is count-stacking in the eyes of defense counsel can be, in the eyes of the prosecutor, insurance against a compromise verdict or a partial appellate reversal."

What does this mean? Please give an example of each.

Posted by: George | Jun 12, 2009 12:01:49 PM

If I had gone any other way, gangs of retarded people would ravish our nation, as word would spread on retard-blogs. “Regular” gangs would recruit the mentally retarded (using gift baskets and frequent flyer miles), knowing that they will simply get off with lifetime commitment to a mental institution.

Posted by: S.cotus | Jun 12, 2009 12:03:16 PM

Zack -- I like to think I'm a reasonably competent lawyer, but Solomon I am not. I don't know what to do with a person like this. He is probably too mentally deficient to be held criminally responsible to anything like the extent a normally intelligent person would be. On the other hand, he has a demonstrated interest in sexually molesting small children, so it's not safe to have him on the loose.

I know how to write a brief, and I wrote plenty of them. I do not know how to fix the world.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 12, 2009 12:03:27 PM

The defendnat appearing before the Honorable Michael R. Levine, sentence was imposed as follows:

"The defendant, 18 years of age, is substantially retarded; nevertheless, he has admited to serious offenses--sexual molestation of a young child; and the victim may well suffer life-long consequences. At the same time, the Supreme Court has recognized in Gall v. U.S. , 128 S.Ct. 586 (2007)that a defendant’s youth, retardation, and immaturity at time of the crime can mitigate a sentence. See also Roper v. Simmons, 125 S.Ct. 1183 (2005) (“today our society views juveniles, in the words Atkins used respecting the mentally retarded, as “cate¬gorically less culpable than the average criminal.... [a] lack of maturity and an underdeveloped sense of responsibility are found in youth more often than in adults and are more understandable among the young. These qualities often result in impetuous and ill-considered actions and decisions.... The susceptibil¬ity of juveniles to immature and irresponsible behavior means “their irresponsible conduct is not as morally rep¬rehensible as that of an adult.... [t]he relevance of youth as a miti¬gating factor derives from the fact that the signature qualities of youth are transient; as individuals mature, the impetuousness and recklessness that may dominate in younger years can subside.”). This Court believes in the possibility of rehabilitation.

Accordingly, the defendant is sentenced to a term of 15 years in prison, during which time he is to receive whatever counseling and therapy is available. Upon his release from prison, he will be subejct to supervison for life upon the following conditions: registration as a sex offender; electronic monitoring 24 hours a day; not to be in the prsence of minors without the written approval of his probation officer and the court.

Mr. Defendant, I could have sentenced you to 100 years, as many of my colleagues have urged me to do. But I believe that such draconian punishments are barbaric and counter-producive. I wish you the best of luck."

Posted by: Michael R. Levine | Jun 12, 2009 12:56:09 PM

Bill - a perfectly reasonable response since there is in truth, probably no good answer for a case that is problematic on so many levels - but I don't think it takes the wisdom of Solomon to think that an effective life prison sentence following a guilty plea without a deal following a mental examination by someone who is allegedly not familiar with intellectual disability isn't the best solution.

Posted by: Zack | Jun 12, 2009 5:51:17 PM

Does it matter in a jury trial right sense that the jury believed that he would be serving 30 years based upon their sentence rather than 100 years, and that they asked for alternative sentencing options but were told that none were available?

Posted by: ohwilleke | Jun 12, 2009 6:54:28 PM

Zack -- I don't disagree. Indeed I think that a sentence of 100 years is just showboating. Since (virtually) no one lives 100 years, what's the point? No reasonable person could doubt the importance of protecting young children from this guy's predelictions, but this is not a case that calls for a particularly punitive outlook. Keep the kids as safe as we can, but give the defendant such help as is realistically possible for someone with his mental functioning. In that regard, I agree with the general drift, if not every detail, of the comment by the Honorable Michael R. Levine.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 12, 2009 7:10:17 PM

If the defendant has an IQ of 47. Then you talk to him. Ask hm about lunch, dinner, his sister Sally, --- .
If this is really the IQ of a defendant sentenced to what is basically life inprison for fondling a neighbor of young age then the person that sentenced him needs to go see St.Peter on his way into: heaven or hell or Florissant (pergatory) and beg on both knees and ask why he does not get sent tp the second option as a matter of course. His lawyer gets Hell. The prosecutor gets two steps down into Hell and the great State of Texas---

Posted by: mpb | Jun 12, 2009 7:24:25 PM

Judge: I strongly urge you to restore the dignity of the court, and to immediately resign from the bench. You decision makes the court look stupid and unjust.

The defendant will get expelled from prison in a month. Your sentence is incompetent and falls below standards of professional practice of judges, addressing such cases. It will be left to prison officials to scramble to correct your mistake, but without your powers and ability to admit defendants to the proper facility.

You have also placed yourself in total agreement with the feminist witch hunt of the male by overvaluing the damage from sex acts. Specify for us the damages suffered by the victim. That collaboration with feminist hate groups makes you unfit for your responsible position.

Nor am I in any way a soft on crime advocate, nor do I support any reduction of responsibility because of anyone's IQ. I am to the extreme in the opposite direction. But your sentence brings opprobrium on the court.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jun 12, 2009 7:31:21 PM

Bill - a perfectly reasonable response since there is in truth, probably no good answer for a case that is problematic on so many levels - but I don't think it takes the wisdom of Solomon to think that an effective life prison sentence following a guilty plea without a deal following a mental examination by someone who is allegedly not familiar with intellectual disability isn't the best solution.ye

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Posted by: Beats By Dre | May 31, 2012 10:21:55 PM

Sexual abuse, also referred to as molestation, is the forcing of undesired sexual behavior by one person upon another. When that force is immediate, of short duration, or infrequent, it is called sexual assault. The offender is referred to as a sexual abuser or (often pejoratively) molester. The term also covers any behavior by any adult towards a child to stimulate either the adult or child sexually. When the victim is younger than the age of consent, it is referred to as child sexual abuse.

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