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September 18, 2009

"Athlete's sentence: No prison, no sports"

The title of this post is the headline of this local Ohio article that a helpful reader sent my way.  Here are the fascinating details:

Applause turned to gasps in a Butler County courtroom Thursday as a judge announced an unusual punishment for a Middletown track and football star: Dwayne "Deejay" Hunter is forbidden from playing organized sports during his five-year probation for a felonious assault conviction. "We're going to see who Dwayne Hunter the person is, not who Dwayne Hunter the star athlete is," declared Judge Andrew Nastoff, as he said Hunter still has a six-year prison sentence that would be imposed if he violates any conditions of his probation.

Nastoff had warned Hunter: "You're 19 years old. And you are standing right here, six inches away from a prison number and the potential to go away to prison for eight years - that's two presidential terms. You are right there," the judge said, drawing his index finger and thumb within an inch of each other. Then the judge announced, "You are not going to prison today."

When at least a dozen supporters applauded and cheered, Nastoff quieted the crowd and told anyone who couldn't control themselves to leave. Then he began outlining all the conditions of probation: no sports, not even intramurals; a $500 fine; 500 hours of community service, which can include his helping youngsters in Special Olympics, pee-wee football or other sports; plus 180 days in the Butler County Jail. With credit for time served, he will be released just before Thanksgiving.

An aunt, Rita Hunter, said the family would have a celebration that would be "beyond joyous - it will be awesome." Within 30 days of his release, Deejay Hunter must either obtain full-time employment or enroll in full-time schooling, Nastoff ordered, and also must attend counseling to address "personality and relationship issues" outlined in a mental-health evaluator's report.

Nastoff said Hunter must make abiding by these rules his top priority. If he messes up even once, the judge vowed to send Hunter to prison. Hunter's aunt wiped tears from her eyes and expressed gratitude that Nastoff kept her nephew out of prison, yet said she felt badly he's being kept away from sports. "I'm kind of happy and sad at the same time," she said. "It's kind of strict, but the judge had to do what he had to do."

Hunter, who pleaded guilty as charged in July, could have received up to eight years in prison for shooting a BB gun from a vehicle on a Middletown street in January, striking a 15-year-old boy in the face; one of the BB's struck the victim's eyelid. "You were probably an inch away from blinding someone," the judge told Hunter.

Nastoff said the victim's family wrote to him and said that Hunter had served enough jail time. Nastoff said he wasn't sure he agreed with that sentiment. "That's what kind of people they are. They're big people - big enough, in spite of what happened, to say maybe he's served enough punishment," Nastoff said.

Hunter, who wore No. 26 for the Middies at cornerback, attracted football scholarship offers from across the nation and had planned to sign a letter-of-intent with one of those colleges on national signing day, Feb. 4. Instead, he was sitting in jail. "Virtually every Division I school was interested in him," said Hunter's attorney, Frank Schiavone.

In track, Hunter ran the 100-yard dash in 10.2 seconds - but missed competing in the state finals because he was locked up for violating terms of his bond in the BB gun incident. Hunter, who graduated this spring, was also a good student, carrying a 3.4 grade-point average, Schiavone said.

Nastoff said the list of college scholarships meant nothing to him. "Do you know what I care about? How are you going to live - are you going to shoot people in the face?" Nastoff said.

Nastoff told Hunter he detected a possible "seed of empathy" because, among about a half-dozen speeches in court Thursday, "you were the only one that talked about what happened to the victim." Nastoff said the sentence was crafted to force Hunter to learn vital life lessons. "Find out who you really are without this whole aura of the athletics around you, because quite frankly in some ways it's made you a Frankenstein monster. It's made you think you're owed certain things," Nastoff said.

In addition to welcoming comments about whether this sentence is wise, I would also love to hear from anyone who thinks it might be constitutionally questionable.

September 18, 2009 at 12:53 PM | Permalink

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Comments

I actually think sports are detrimental to black youths, on average. Ninety-nine percent of athletes have no future. And ninety percent that get college scholarships, never get an education — although they may get a piece of paper after five years.

Posted by: Mike | Sep 18, 2009 1:40:47 PM

In People v. Higgins, 22 Mich. App. 479 (1970), the Michigan Court of Appeals struck a condition prohibiting a defendant from playing college or professional basketball. The court saw no connection between the condition and the defendant's rehabilitation. If anything, the court said, the restriction would be more likely to impede rehabilitation than promote it. It seems to me that the same could be said in the Hunter case, although I don't know all the facts. If, for example, the shooting took place when he was with his teammates or because of pressure from them, there would be a closer nexus between the condition and the crime, and a better argument that removing him from the team environment would aid in his rehabilitation.

Posted by: Jamie Markham | Sep 18, 2009 2:27:19 PM

While I can't provide a detailed explanation of why this is not unconstitutional (not enough time this morning), my hope is that it is not. Judges need to be given the leeway to provide alternatives to incarceration. As a defense attorney dealing with many of the same clients over and over again, it is clear to me that long terms of imprisonment are useless for both the offender and society (with the exception, of course, of the truly violent offender). I appreciate this Judge's willingness to step outside the box. I assume the prohibition on sports participation is for a limited time - likely just long enough to keep him out of professional sports during his time of peak performance. I think that is a perfect response to this crime and will lead to a lifelong lesson for this young man (who can still participate if that participation is helping others) and hopefully for those who hear about it.

Posted by: Martha Norton | Oct 17, 2009 8:06:30 AM

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