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June 2, 2012

"Judge calls it quits after 31 years; sentencing too much to bear"

The title of this post is the headline of this lengthy new Washington Post article.  Here are excerpts:

Judges are loathe to discuss the emotional strain or joys of the job, lest they raise questions about their impartiality.  But [U.S. District Judge Ricardo] Urbina, a gray-haired jurist who took up Aikido in his 50s and meditates daily, is known for wearing his heart on his sleeve. And in a series of interviews, the judge spoke candidly about what he and most of his colleagues consider the most difficult and draining aspect of their work: sentencing, a gut-wrenching courtroom moment where a real life intersects with esoteric legal arguments and sentencing guidelines that never truly capture a case’s nuances.

For Urbina, sentencing has always been filled with stress and doubt — of agonizingly weighing the crime against the defendant’s past, of worrying about what message to send to the public and of feeling that he was never given the proper tools to rehabilitate offenders.  So, after 31 years on the local and D.C. federal bench, of sitting in judgment of scam artists, burglars, corrupt government officials and murderers, the judge retired last month, explaining that a prime reason he left a job he loved was that he had simply grown too fatigued of sentencing....

Urbina, who strangely has a reputation among prosecutors, defense lawyers and courthouse employees for being a bit prickly and quick-tempered, said there was no more important time for clarity than in the hours before sentencing.

Appointed to D.C. Superior Court in 1981 by President Ronald Reagan and then to the federal bench in 1994 by President Bill Clinton, the judge had sentenced hundreds of people to punishments ranging from life in prison to community service (he never presided over a death-penalty trial).

Urbina also imposed imaginative punishments — he ordered two men to write lengthy books about their deeds in the hopes it would help them better understand their crimes and allow others to learn from the experiences.  And he ordered most defendants to reappear in his courtroom every six months after their prison terms ended to check on their progress while on supervised release.

“I do not have a passion for punishment,” he said, a statement that helps explain why he is one of the more lenient sentencers on the D.C. federal bench, according to statistics. “If there is a way the court can contribute to the rehabilitation process, it is more likely the person will return to the mainstream.”

June 2, 2012 at 08:18 PM | Permalink


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This mental cripple bought the law school indoctrination. Only incapacitation has any value to the public, and is the sole mature goal of the criminal law, if safety is its purpose. Retribution is from the Bible and unlawful in our secular nation. Rehabilitation for the tightly funneled criminals in jail is a joke. All the rehab candidates responded 10 penalties ago. General deterrence is unconstitutional punishing the person for the speculative, future crimes of a criminal the defendant has never met. Specific deterrence does not exist, or the fear of arrest would have been sufficient, or even of a bad conscience. I have an open mind about restitution, but most defendants have no assets, and no skill. If intelligent or skillful, we do not want criminals near any tools. Slave labor may fulfill this goal, and is permitted under the Thirteenth Amendment.

One other useful activity is to spend all day water boarding the prisoner and solving the hundreds of crimes he has committed. That is never mentioned in any law book.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jun 3, 2012 1:58:19 AM

Sorry to see him go. Looks like one of the old school judges who actualy JUDGED the individual and the individual situation...Not used the broken ONE SIZE FITS ALL our crooked congres has created!

ok you can now BREATH bill! See i can be nice!

i just DON'T like it! it HURTS! LOL

Posted by: rodsmith | Jun 3, 2012 9:53:35 AM

rodsmith --

"ok you can now BREATH bill! See i can be nice!"

Not to worry. You're one of my favorites. No faux high-minded academic BS, guaranteed.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 3, 2012 2:19:25 PM

Thanks bill!

Posted by: rodsmith | Jun 3, 2012 4:31:27 PM

I would be interested in the recidivism rate of the offenders he sentenced over the years compared to his less lenient colleagues.

Posted by: David | Jun 3, 2012 7:04:58 PM

LOL that will never happen david. the info might shock the hell out of you and result in complete imbarassment to the justice system!

right up there with the REAL sex offender reoffence rates! They will NEVER release that!

Posted by: rodsmith | Jun 3, 2012 10:06:15 PM

David --

"I would be interested in the recidivism rate of the offenders he sentenced over the years compared to his less lenient colleagues."

Great question.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 4, 2012 10:09:20 PM

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