Scolded for extramarital affair, 'good Catholic fellow' gets new sentencing hearing

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A Florida judge who opined that Catholics and moral people shouldn’t have affairs may have been improperly swayed by religion during sentencing of a sexual battery defendant, a Florida appeals court has ruled.

The 1st District Court of Appeal ordered a new sentencing hearing before a different judge for Percy Edgardo Torres, 44, of Jacksonville, accused in a police report of assaulting the victim after they had drinks at a bar, the Florida Times-Union reports. The judge, Russell Healey, had imposed a 30-year maximum sentence after scolding Torres for having an extramarital affair with the victim.

“We agree that the trial court’s comments could reasonably be construed to suggest that the trial court based appellant’s sentence, at least in part, on religion,” the appeals court said. The Religion Clause Blog noted the story and linked to the opinion (PDF).

At the sentencing hearing, Torres’ father identified himself as a Catholic and said his son was innocent. Torres also told the judge he was innocent and said he had been set up by the victim, a troubled woman whom he was dating. The appellate opinion notes this exchange between the defendant and the judge:

THE COURT: You were married, weren’t you?

TORRES: Yeah. I was married, but my wife was in my country.

THE COURT: I know that. Just because your wife is in another country doesn’t mean you ought to be going out with other women. You’re a good Catholic fellow as I am. That’s not the way Catholic people—that’s not the way anybody with morals should do anything.

TORRES: We was going out like friends. Like go out.

THE COURT: … you’re the one that said you had sex with her before this night.

TORRES: Yeah. Before this night. Yeah. We have sex.

THE COURT: But you’re married.

TORRES: Yeah. I was married.

THE COURT: That wasn’t right, was it?

TORRES: I know. Yes. It is my mistake.

Healey returned to the theme at the end of the hearing. “You should not have been dancing together and by your own testimony you should not have had prior sexual encounters with her under any set of circumstances once you are married,” he said.

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