Judges do have some considerable flexibility when it comes to sentencing people convicted of crimes. But one St. Joseph Superior court judge has found a way to gain even more control, not only over the initial sentence but if it is changed down the road. And for this an inmate says his rights have been toyed with and he is subsequently filing suit.
According to the South Bend Tribune, this inmate was convicted of several drug charges. They included dealing in Schedule II controlled substances, possession of a Schedule IV, possession of marijuana and hashish, and two counts of possession of the chemical ingredients used to make methamphetamines. The most serious of these charges, the inmate claims, weren’t for meth making, merely an ebay business he had dealing in chemicals.
Regardless, his sentence is the thing at issue here—the judge sentenced him to 20 years. He suspended this 20 year sentence and ordered 20 years of probation. But, he stated that prison time would be a condition of probation.
Apparently the St. Joseph Superior Court judge wanted the man to do some hard time but wanted control over when he would be released.
A judge has the authority to change conditions of probation to suit the offender’s progress or problems while under supervision. Had he sentenced the man to a straight prison term, there wouldn’t be much flexibility. However, by making it a condition of probation, he could maintain control by determining when the man got released.
Immediately following sentencing, the judge told him that is was highly likely he would be out in one to two years depending on his progress while incarcerated. It’s going on three years since he was sentenced and the inmate is now filing suit.
Complicating the process is the fact that this inmate has filed several lawsuits and complaints while incarcerated. The local clerk’s office has a huge file on him and he thinks this may have something to do with why the judge hasn’t released him as promised.
The inmate has glowing recommendations from supervisors and staff within the Department of Corrections and fails to see why he hasn’t been released. But, the judge isn’t required to release him. As a matter of fact, he could keep him in there for the entire 20 years if he wanted.
Local officials from various agencies fall on either side of this argument, some stating the judge has good intentions while others, including DOC officials, state this judge’s practices are confusing and they refuse to comment.
Typically, if a judge wants you to serve a period of incarceration while on probation, it will be 90 days or less in jail. According to the Tribune, these sort of sentences are unique to this particular judge and they have withstood the appeals processes, with courts siding on behalf of the judge.
The inmate states he is more concerned with his chemistry business upon release than he is about what year he will be allowed back into the community.