Sometimes, judges say silly things. However, blunders are usually blown out of proportion by people who don’t know the context of the case at hand.
That being said, in September last year, a judge made some pretty controversial and somewhat bizarre comments whilst sentencing 26 year old burglar Richard Rochford. Now, not many would call a drug addicted, serial burglar ‘courageous’, but Judge Peter Bowers voiced this opinion to the criminal before him. He said that stealing from houses ‘took a huge amount of courage’, and then set him free. The judge also said that he believed prison did ‘little good’ for criminals, and in this case he would ‘take a chance’ on the burglar.
The judge was reprimanded for his comments. He was investigated by the judicial watchdog and (to some extent) scolded for his comments by Mr Cameron himself. The Prime Minister had something to say about this Teesside Crown Court judge’s comments and spoke to ITV Daybreak about it. He said: “Judges sometimes say things that you have to read the full context and the rest of it. But I’m very clear; burglary is not bravery, burglary is cowardice, burglary is a hateful crime.’
How a judge can see burglary as anything but a hate crime, I cannot fathom. And if this is in fact a self-justified opinion of his, why voice it to the criminal you are sentencing? Surely this only encourages the criminal and others to commit this act of ‘bravery’ again, if a legal figure has praised you for your courage in ransacking peoples’ homes. It can be said that this is a very serious blunder of someone in his high legal position. Regardless of whether his comments were taken out of context or not, someone of his standing should go nowhere near the question of justifying burglary, or if prison does criminals any good.
I hope for most of us it is not lack of nerve that stops us from burgling peoples’ property, but the knowledge that it is morally wrong and against the law. This clumsy judge had some explaining to do after this case.
Arguably, this series of legal blunders almost led to Drew Peterson walking free of his murder trial. The retired IP police sergeant has now been charged with the murder of ex-wife Kathleen Savio, and is being held in a detention centre in Illinois. The whole trial was however, thrown into jeopardy by slip ups by prosecutor Kathleen Patton. Much of the evidence surrounding the trial was based on hearsay. This was permitted by the judge under the 2009 law to “admit hearsay evidence in first-degree murder cases if prosecutors can prove the victim’s death was directly connected to a defendant’s efforts to prevent them from testifying”.
Prosecutors were lambasted by the judge at the hearing for bringing up topics they were forbidden from mentioning in front of the jury. This blunder did not occur once, but three times in as many weeks. One topic brought up was whether the murdered wife Savio had sought a protection order against Peterson. Patton had been specifically warned against bringing this up, but she asked the question anyway. Her excuse was that she was simply reading through her list of pre prepared questions, and ‘forgot’ that she was not meant to ask that one. Pretty weak excuse if you ask me.
The judge continued the trial, but seriously considered the declaration of a mistrial, due to this one rookie mistake from Patton. Jurors were told to leave the room while the judge berated the prosecutor on her blunder. Jurors were then told to disregard the question, and the trial went on. However, the mistake supplied grounds for appeal.
Shortly after her mistake, Patton sat in an adjoining room with her head in her hands. This crucial mistake came days after the prosecution appeared to be succeeding in the case. Judge Edward Burmila had recently granted the use of hearsay evidence, which was central to the Peterson case.
In such high profile cases, trip ups like these, with weak excuses behind their errors, simply cannot occur in the courtroom. In this case, the prosecutor got away with it. In future, the judge may not be so lenient.