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What's Up in the 8th

Everybody loves a second chance.  Darrick Jones is going to get a third one, Reggie Lee ran out of them, Virgil Hill isn't going to get one, and Baltek Randhawa is going to get one, even though maybe he shouldn't.  

The Judicial College teaches judges a number of things, but there's no foreign language requirement, and that presents a problem in City of Bedford v. RandhawaRandhawa was charged with aggravated menacing for a speech he made about Baltek Randhawa in the Sikh Temple the two attended.  Well, it started  out as aggravated menacing; by the time trial day rolled around, it had been reduced to disorderly conduct, a minor misdemeanor, a reduction impelled, it's my guess, by the fact that the prosecutor would have rather have been beaten in the face with a ballpeen  hammer than spend two days in a jury trial on this.  Especially because the supposed threats had been made in Punjabi.  There was an audiotape of the speech, and Randhawa had it transcribed, and also offered the testimony of an interpreter.  The court refused both, distrusting the interpreter (who'd also made the transcription) because of her 18-year friendship with Randhawa.

Normally, whether a trial court erred in refusing an interpreter would be reviewed for abuse of discretion, but this isn't the normal situation; as the court notes, "the issue is not whether either appellant Randhawa or the interpreter were proficient in the English language but, rather, if the trier of fact was proficient in Punjabi."  We can pretty much guess the answer to that one, and the court, expressing its difficulty in understanding "how the court could reach a fair and just verdict without hearing the actual statements that were made," reverses and remands for a new trial.

Randhawa had also assigned a speedy trial violation as error, but the panel decides that it need not address that, since the assignment regarding the interpreter is "dispositive."  Really?  If the court had sustained the speedy trial claim, there would've been no need for a retrial.  The smart money is that there won't be one anyway; the prosecutor has probably heard as much Punjabi as he intends to in his lifetime.  See reference to ballpeen hammer, supra.

There's not much question that Darrick Jones is a bad guy:  in a little over two months, he broke into three homes and terrorized the inhabitants, then shot another man on the street for good measure, prompting one of the most liberal judges on the bench here to give him a 32-year sentence.  That got reversed in February because the judge didn't make the necessary findings for imposing consecutive sentences, and after further reflection on the remand, the judge decided that a 21-year sentence was more appropriate.   Jones appeals again, and in State v. Jones, the court reverses again, for much the same reason:  the judge didn't make the finding that consecutive sentences weren't disproportionate.   The case mainly serves to demonstrate that the 8th District is the most stringent in the application of the 2929.14(C)(4) requirements.  In some districts, not only would the appeals court have upheld the sentence, they would have tacked the 11 years back on. 

A simple lesson is provided by State v. LeeTen years ago, in State v. Brooks, the Supreme Court held that a judge couldn't impose a prison sentence for a probation violation if he hadn't notified the defendant at the time of sentencing of what sentence would be imposed upon violation.   When Lee pleads guilty to a fifth degree felony, the judge puts him on probation, but warns him that a violation would result in a 12-month sentence.   Three violation hearings later, the judge finally runs out of patience and sends Lee off for 11 months.  Lee complains that the judge didn't tell him about the sentence at his first two violation hearings, but he doesn't have to, as long as he does it at the initial sentencing hearing. 

Virgil Hill had a number of problems:   an eighth-grade education which didn't allow him to read or write, medications for anxiety and depression, and psychiatric reports which concluded he wasn't psychotic, despite that fact that he reported sometimes "hearing voices."  His more immediate problem was the seven-count indictment against him, charging him with kidnapping, aggravated robbery, felonious assault, and two counts of rape, all arising from his relationship with his "on-again/off-again girlfriend."  That latter problem appeared to be ameliorated, if not solved, by his plea to one count of assault and one of sexual battery.  But then he tried to withdraw his plea.  Well, you know how those things work out, and in State v. Hill, that's how they did work out:  the court goes through the litany of how a simple change of heart isn't sufficient - it's sufficient to back out of a deal to put siding on your house, but not to get out of a guilty plea - and that's that.

But then we come to the concurring opinion.  The court's opinion quotes little of the plea or motion transcript, other than Hill's acknowledgment that he was "not saying I'm innocent," but the concurrence notes that at the plea hearing, Hill admitted "putting hands on" the victim, but denied being guilty of the rape.


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