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February 23, 2008

Sentencing delayed is sentencing reduced (with victim's help)

It is often said that justice delayed is justice denied, but this remarkable sentencing story from today's New York Times, headlined "4 Decades After Shooting, Effort to Make Punishment Fit the Crime," puts a different spin on that aphorism.  Here are snippets:

What punishment should be imposed on a man who shot a police officer almost 40 years ago and fled to Canada, but went on to live an upstanding life as a husband and father who worked in a library?

There was a rare answer here on Friday: Require him to give $250,000 to a foundation that helps the families of injured Chicago police officers.

Joseph Pannell, 58, who admits that he shot a police officer here in 1969, will serve just 30 days in jail and two years’ probation as part of a plea bargain that legal experts called extremely unusual.

The driving force behind the arrangement, both sides said, was the former Chicago police officer himself, Terrence Knox, whose right arm was permanently damaged by the shooting. “Something good had to come out of this,” Mr. Knox said Friday, after watching Mr. Pannell accept the deal during a hearing in a Cook County courthouse.  “The easy way out would have been to have a trial, and cost this county hundreds of thousands of dollars, have him go to jail, and cost the prison system hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Mr. Knox said.

Mr. Pannell, who was charged with aggravated battery, attempted murder and bail-jumping, could have faced up to 23 years in prison.  All but an aggravated battery charge were dropped....

Mr. Pannell’s lawyer declined to answer specific questions about the shooting. But previously, John Norris, a lawyer for Mr. Pannell in Canada, said he had acted in self-defense during a time of intense distrust between the Chicago police and African-Americans.  The Chicago police have said Mr. Pannell was a member of the Black Panther Party, though Mr. Pannell denies that....

Defendants in violent cases are rarely offered plea bargains that include large donations to charity instead of lengthy prison time, legal experts said. “It almost looks like a bribe,” said Ronald Allen, a professor of law at Northwestern University, who added that since the arrangement had the victim’s blessing, it might not be unreasonable.  “In a way, it’s recompense for exactly the kind of harm that he caused.”

Among other great lessons, this case provides yet another example of how robust attentiveness to the interests and desires of victims can often be a progressive and healthy aspect of a sound sentencing system.

February 23, 2008 at 05:38 PM | Permalink


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A forty year old crime, and not a lot of time . . . . I don't see how many lessons are learned from this. This does smack a little bit of a wergild.

Posted by: federalist | Feb 23, 2008 6:29:07 PM

you're one sick puppy, federalist. clearly, lengthy prison sentences are the only form of justice & punishment. or, even better, perhaps you think this guy ought to have lost use of his arm too?

Posted by: wow | Feb 24, 2008 1:01:19 PM

Fortunately, these types of cases don't happen very often. I wouldn't have had a huge problem if the guy had gotten a stiff sentence, but I don't have a huge problem with this resolution either. I don't think the case has many broader implications because the factual scenario is so rare. If the cop had died, though, I think the issue would be a lot different.

Posted by: federalist | Feb 24, 2008 5:22:58 PM

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