Judge Can’t Hike Prison Sentence Over Defendant Cussing at Him, Ohio Supreme Court Rules

Calling judge a “racist ass bitch” doesn’t justify six more years in prison, says Ohio’s high court. Criminal defendants have a right to curse at judges without getting years tacked on to their prison sentences. That seems like it shouldn’t be controversial, right? But somehow, the matter went all the way to the state Supreme Court, after an appeals court upheld a trial judge’s decision to add six years to a man’s sentence for calling the trial judge names.

Now, the Ohio Supreme Court has reversed the lower court’s decision and ruled that the defendant cussing out the judge couldn’t factor into the judge’s sentencing decision.

The case involves Lake County Common Pleas Court Judge Eugene Lucci and defendant Manson Bryant, whom a jury convicted of aggravated burglary and aggravated robbery for participating in a group effort to rob a man in his home at gunpoint.

Lucci initially ruled that Bryant should already spend 22 years in prison for his crimes—an steep sentence that seems somewhat emblematic of what’s wrong with criminal justice in this country. (The judge imposed a 12-year sentence on his co-defendant, but gave Bryant more based on the fact that he had prior criminal convictions.)

Understandably, Bryant was not pleased. And he reacted emotionally. “Twenty-two years? Man, fuck your courtroom, you racist ass bitch,” he said, per an Ohio 19 News article at the time of his sentencing. “Fuck your courtroom, man. You racist as fuck. Twenty-two fucking years? Racist ass bitch. You ain’t shit.”

“You never gave me probation,” Bryant added, according to Cleveland.com. “You never gave me a chance.”

Upon hearing all this, Lucci added another six years to Bryant’s sentence, imposing the maximum penalty allowed. The judge justified this decision by saying that Bryant’s outburst showed he lacked remorse.

“Actually, actually… you know what,” said Lucci, according to 19 News. “Remember when I said that you had some remorse? When I said that you had a certain amount of remorse, I was mistaken. The court determines that maximum imprisonment is needed. So that’s 28 years.”

Bryant appealed the sentencing decision. The Ohio 11th District Court of Appeals unanimously upheld it. But the Supreme Court has now reinstated the original 22-year sentence.

In a 4–3 decision, the Court noted that Bryant’s words for the judge were unrelated to his underlying crimes and therefore couldn’t be used to make decisions about his sentence for those crimes.

“If a defendant’s outburst or other courtroom misbehavior causes a significant disruption that obstructs the administration of justice, that behavior may be punishable as contempt of court,” wrote Justice Melody Stewart for the majority. A contempt of court finding could have added 30 days to Bryant’s incarceration—not six years.

To say that Brytan’s outburst at Lucci showed he wasn’t remorseful for the robbery doesn’t make any legal sense, noted the justices:

There is no provision in the sentencing statutes that authorizes a trial
court to impose or increase a defendant’s prison sentence merely because the
the defendant had an outburst or expressed himself in a profane and offensive way.
And while a defendant’s showing of remorse is a sentencing factor to be considered
by the trial court when applicable, it is hard to conceive of any honest and logical
assessment of Bryant’s outburst that could be construed as being motivated by, or
evincing, no remorse for his crimes. …

At bottom, no matter how one looks at this situation, the statements
that Bryant made to the trial court during his allocution and during his outburst
were nothing more than a plea for leniency based on his belief that he could be
rehabilitated if he were given a chance to overcome his drug addiction. … It would be ironic for the trial court to view Bryant’s outburst as an indication that he is likely to commit future crimes, which in turn warranted a sixyear increase in the sentence in order to protect the public, when the plain purpose behind Bryant’s statements were to
communicate his disbelief that he received a 22year sentence, which not affording him a meaningful opportunity to reenter society as a law-abiding citizen after rehabilitation.

They added: “Trial-court judges do get offended and angry, that anger clouds judgment and that clouded judgment often results in unjust outcomes. The record in this case demonstrates that fundamentally, this is what happened.”


FREE MINDS

Major papers’ coverage of Section 230 is overwhelmingly negative, according to a master’s thesis from University of North Carolina journalism student Kathryn Alexandria Johnson. Her analysis of Section 230 coverage in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal found that out of 204 articles discussing the federal communications law, 91.7 percent described it in a negative way. Some 107 of the 116 Times articles on Section 230 were negative, while six exhibited a mix of negative and positive views and only two were positive. Of the Journal‘s 88 pieces on Section 230, 80 were negative, four were mixed, and just three were purely positive.

Johnson’s thissis paper “includes a really useful description of Section 230 itself, along with its history, and some of the often confused nuances around the law,” notes Mike Masnick at Techdirt. “Johnson clearly did her homework here, and it actually is one of the best summaries of the issues around 230 I’ve seen. The paper is worth reading for just that section (the first half of the paper) alone.”

“The paper also explores how these newspapers sought to frame Section 230, and found that they did a very poor job explaining how it has multiple functions, often choosing to focus on one framing — rather than a more accurate framing of how Section 230 is structured to encourage multiple things,” Masnick points out:

It protects websites from being held liable as a publisher of third party content, which encourages more websites to allow for more speech, and it protects them from content moderation decisions creating liability, enabling them to cultivate their communities in the way they see fit. Understanding both of these is kind of important to understanding Section 230, but it appears that these papers rarely gave a complete description. Also, perhaps oddly (or perhaps because they’re just super confused themselves), they often used the publisher framing, even though they were really talking about the content moderation function — which may very well be why so many others, including politicians, are so confused about 230. …

Then there’s the question of how often these two famed newspapers just flat out got things wrong about Section 230. The data may be lower than you might expect, as Johnson found it happened 16.2% of the time, but that’s still kind of astounding. This is a fundamental issue that has gotten a ton of attention and to still get it wrong in about one out of every six articles is indefensible.


FREE MARKETS

Wage inequality gap shrinks.We have, for the first time in 40 years, strong wage growth at the bottom leading to lower wage inequality,” points out Arindrajit Dube, an economics professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst:


FOLLOWUP

Tempe cops who watched a man drown have been placed on leave. The Tempe, Arizona, police officers who watched as a man they had been questioning drowned in a lake have now been placed on “non-disciplinary paid administrative leave” pending an investigation. Police are investigating the man’s death in “an inquiry that will also be reviewed by the Arizona Department of Public Safety,” reports NPR. “The Scottsdale Police Department is a separate administrative review of how the police responded.”

The Tempe Police Department has also pledged to release additional body camera footage from the incident. And “Tempe Police and city officials say they are also reassessing their water response protocols, what equipment officers might need and the placement of rescue equipment at bodies of water.”


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• San Francisco voters’ efforts to recall district attorney Chesa Boudin were successful.

• “You don’t have to be sympathetic to the January 6 rioters and their tantrum over the outcome of the 2020 presidential election to have serious doubts about the US government filing seditious conspiracy charges against the former leader of the Proud Boys and other members of the organization,” suggests J.D. Tuccille.

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