Croker Sack

"Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard." — Henry Louis Mencken (1880-1956)

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Tennessee Reservist Jailed For AWOL

Update, July 23: Apparently, the lawyers and the judge didn't do the basic research needed to determine the maximum lawful punishment in this case. I had presumed that multiple counts had produced the sentence, but it turns out that ignorance did it:

Brown was initially sentenced to 11 months and 29 days and fined $1,000 by General Sessions Court Judge Bob Moon. The judge said he discovered the next morning that the charge is only a Class C misdemeanor carrying 30 days and a $50 fine rather than a Class A misdemeanor.

Meanwhile, Brown's attorneys, Hillary Stewart and Hallie McFadden, took the case to Judge Stern, who ruled it was an illegal sentence and released Brown from jail after he had served one day.

The original sentencing judge accepts the blame that is due him:

Judge Moon said, "Brown's attorneys never spoke to me, and I had no idea the attorneys had taken the case to another judge in another court so very quickly. The judgment was corrected and announced in open court the very next morning. Nevertheless, the buck stops with the judge in sentencing, and, although the prosecutors misinformed me of the classification of the offense, I take full responsiblity."

Now, what say the lawyers who didn't figure out what took me only about 15 minutes on the Web to learn before my original remarks about this case?

"D'oh" seems appropriate, if an abject apology sticks in their craws.

As for the decision by defense counsel to take the matter to another judge, the fact that the second judge reduced the sentence to one day in confinement rather than the 30 days authorized by Tennessee law indicates that judge shopping probably occurred. Judge Moon had made his opinion of the seriousness of the offense known. Judge Stern apparently felt it was not at all serious. (Does Stern usually act in other than stern ways during sentencing? I wonder what Stern's opinion of the war against terrorism is.)

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In Chattanooga, there is a type of case I don't recall having seen before. An Army Reserve member (presumably also a member of the Tennessee National Guard) has been tried, convicted and sentenced by a civilian court for absence without leave ("AWOL").

Apparently, there were quite a few offenses on trial, since Tennessee code section 58-1-613 defines absence without leave as a class C misdemeanor, and section 40-35-111 sets the maximum punishment for such an offense as 30 days in confinement and/or a $50 fine.

Note the sentence imposed on young Mr. Brandon Brown in General Sessions Court:

AWOL Reservist Gets Maximum Jail Time
posted July 17, 2007
A 19-year-old who repeatedly did not report to Army Reserve duty has been given a maximum workhouse sentence of 11 months and 29 days.

Brandon Brown, 19, of 775 Flat Top Mountain, Dunlap, appeared before General Sessions Court Judge Bob Moon on Tuesday morning.

The defendant’s sergeant testified that he had made personal visits to the soldier on four occasions attempting to convince him to return to duty.

Judge Moon obviously considered the offenses to be somewhat serious under the circumstances:

Judge Moon said, “I had much rather have seen you come before me as an honorable soldier instead of a dishonorable inmate. Our military, and especially our reserve officers, are spread thin in the defense of our country and coping with the environmental disasters within our country. Therefore, there is no place for a coward or a deserter anywhere in the ranks of our military.

For now, it seems like a mirror image of the long ago practice of requiring enlistment to avoid confinement for civilian offenses, but it may revert to something like the older model later (assuming Brown isn't administratively discharged in the meantime):

"You are receiving a maximum jail sentence for your conduct unbecoming a soldier in the United States Army and for failing to honor your contract and obligations with the United States.

"Due to the significant shortage of soldiers, I might review your case in the coming months and let you tell me then which role you have enjoyed the most, a soldier or an inmate.”

If all that was involved was weekend drill, I suspect the answer can be provided by Brown in weeks, not months.


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