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Wednesday, May 08, 2024

The Federal Judge Who Put an Innocent Child in Handcuffs Has Been Disciplined, Sort Of

Howard recently posted about the sanctions imposed on Judge Roger Benitez for placing a defendant's 13-year-old daughter in handcuffs, purportedly to teach her a lesson about drugs. He and I had an earlier exchange about whether Benitez would face meaningful consequences. Well, the Ninth Circuit Judicial Council has now issued a disciplinary order, leading Howard to explain that he will "leave it to those who study judicial ethics to opine on whether any of this constitutes 'real consequences.'"

I now have a new column in Slate about Benitez, who has finally been disciplined, sort of.

Here is the gist (I did not write the headline):

A Judge Had a 13-Year-Old Girl Handcuffed for No Reason. A Year Later, He’s Faced Basically No Consequences.

[Benitez] implausibly denied that he had done anything to “demean or shame” Puente’s daughter, as though standing in a crowded courtroom, weeping and handcuffed, while receiving a lecture on drug use, was something an innocent child could be expected to endure without humiliation.

“Trying to help a 13-year-old girl,” Benitez maintained, “can’t be judicial misconduct.”

While the [judicial council's] condemnation of Benitez’s conduct was unequivocal, the consequence did not match the offense.

In a typical criminal case, for example, a defendant’s lack of remorse would call for a significant sentencing enhancement, and Benitez showed no contrition.

Nonetheless, the judicial council issued only a public reprimand and prohibited Benitez from presiding over new criminal cases for three years.

A more fitting penalty also available under the law, although unmentioned in the judicial council decision, would have been to suspend Benitez from presiding over any cases at all “for a time certain.”

Perhaps 10 months completely away from the bench—the same length of time to which he sentenced Mario Puente—might bring about some serious and much-needed reflection.

You can read the entire essay on Slate.

Posted by Steve Lubet on May 8, 2024 at 01:21 PM | Permalink


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