Post Conviction/Sentencing

7th Circuit again rejects short sentence for former officer, tosses judge from case

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Everett McKinley Dirksen U.S.Courthouse, home of the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals/Susan Montgomery (Shutterstock)

A federal judge who didn’t change his mind about a 14-month sentence for an Indiana police officer in an excessive force case won’t get a chance to reconsider.

The Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals removed U.S. District Judge William Lawrence of Indianapolis from the case of former Putnam County sheriff’s deputy Terry Joe Smith, report Courthouse News Service and the Terre Haute Tribune Star. Smith will be resentenced by a new judge.

In a June 19 opinion (PDF), the appeals court said Lawrence didn’t adequately explain why the sentence was below the guidelines range of 33 to 41 months in prison, either the first or second time he imposed the sentence. The appeals court had ordered a full resentencing in the first appeal of the case, but Lawrence didn’t budge from the 14-month sentence on remand.

Smith was convicted in September 2014 of depriving two people of their civil right to be free of the intentional use of unreasonable and excessive force. In both instances, the arrestees were under control of officers when Smith attacked them, according to the opinion by Judge Judge Illana Rovner.

In the first instance, Smith punched an arrestee in the face, making a sound described as a tomato hitting a concrete wall, Rovner said. In the other instance, Smith raised an intoxicated domestic-violence arrestee into the air, threw him face-first into the ground, and drove his knee into the arrestee’s back with such force that the man defecated on himself.

Smith had already been released from prison when Lawrence resentenced him. In a statement at the new sentencing, Smith said he had learned in prison that most of the inmates “were just like me, people who made mistakes and were trying to better themselves.”

“I once would say lock them up and throw away the key; I now say I was uneducated and so wrong,” Smith had said.

Lawrence had found that Smith had accepted responsibility for his actions and noted he had enrolled in an anger management class. “I do not see any benefit in reincarcerating Mr. Smith,” he said. “His anger control counseling would be interrupted. He will lose his job again. He will also disrupt the stability of his children.”

The 7th Circuit was unpersuaded. “Losing one’s job and reputation are the normal consequences of committing a felony at work,” the court said in a footnote. “It is unclear how these naturally occurring repercussions that are not part of any sentence would promote respect for the law and deter others from committing similar crimes.”

In addition, Smith’s statement didn’t mention his victims or his crime, and he didn’t express regret for anything except the length of his sentence, the appeals court said.

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