Judge's sarcasm was 'unwarranted and wholly inappropriate,' appeals court says

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An Illinois appeals court has ordered a new trial before a new judge for a criminal defendant, citing the prosecutor’s opening statement and the trial judge’s “unwarranted and wholly inappropriate sarcasm” during a sentencing hearing.

The court ruled (PDF) on Oct. 11 on behalf of Antonio Jones, who was convicted of attempted murder and aggravated battery in Cook County for allegedly ordering another man to shoot through a door at police officers trying to enter his home, the Chicago Tribune reports. Three officers were injured when the glass door shattered.

The decision said the prosecutor had called Jones a “criminal” at least four times in her opening statement. The second time, the prosecutor called Jones and his co-defendant “cold-blooded criminals,” spurring the judge to admonish jurors to disregard the comment. Jones had not been previously convicted of any crime.

The criminal characterization had no basis in fact and “did not belong in an opening statement under any circumstances,” the appeals court said.

The decision also criticized Judge Stanley Sacks of Chicago for a remark he made at the sentencing hearing after Jones apologized to his children. Sacks said he didn’t believe Jones and the co-defendant “thought about their kids in the slightest on that day. If someone said, ‘Hey, man, how are your kids doing?’ their response would be ‘What kids? I got kids somewhere?’ They are facing possible 45 years in prison at 85 percent or whatever it turns out to be. Take care of those kids.”

The court said Sacks’ remarks “leave little doubt that they were derisive and intended to malign an entire class of criminal defendants. …The court’s sarcasm was unwarranted and wholly inappropriate.”

The court also said Sacks should have allowed Jones to present his claim that he thought the officers were intruders and he acted in self-defense.

According to the Tribune, Sacks “has long had a reputation for delivering strongly worded rebukes from the bench.” He was reassigned for four months to domestic relations court in 2004 for what the Tribune describes as his “profanity-punctuated lecture” during a sentencing hearing.

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