Written by attorney James Richard Rowe II

Police Brutality - Are Courts Too Lenient On Cops Who Violate Law?

Q. How did the judge determine the sentence for the Chicago police officer who beat up the female bartender? Probation seems too lenient! A. Sentencing in criminal cases is left to the Judge, with the exception of cases in which the State is seeking a sentence of death, which will usually be a decision left to a jury. Depending on the crime, a defendant will be charged with either a misdemeanor or a felony, which ultimately determines the sentence. Misdemeanors are punishable by less than one year in jail; felonies carry potential prison terms of one year or longer. Within each category are multiple levels. Class A misdemeanors are the most serious of misdemeanors, with class C misdemeanors being the least serious. The crime of disorderly conduct is a Class C misdemeanor subject to a jail sentence of up to 30 days and/or a fine. The crime of retail theft is a class A misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail. Similarly, there are five classes of felonies: class 1-4, and class X. A crime such as stalking is a class 4 felony punishable by one to three years in prison; aggravated battery is considered a class 3 punishable by two to five years; robbery is considered a class 2 punishable by four to seven years; second degree murder a class 1 punishable by four to fifteen years; and first degree murder a class X punishable by six to thirty years with the possibility of life, or even death. With the exception of class X, all felonies are eligible for terms of probation. But I digress. Chicago police officer, Anthony Abbate, was convicted of aggravated battery - a class 3 felony - for beating the woman. It was considered "aggravated" battery because the defendant was found to have inflicted great bodily harm. Again, a class 3 felony is punishable by 2-5 years in jail, but is also eligible for a term of probation with no jail or prison time. In this case, Abbate was sentenced to two years probation. The Judge was quoted in his ruling as saying that Abbate's actions were "unbelievably stupid", a consequence of his being "so drunk", and that Abbate is "not a bad person" but just "did something bad." Clearly, the Judge did not feel that Abbate's actions justified imprisonment. I'm no Judge and will not claim to have heard any of the evidence of the case other than what everyone else has heard in the news, but I agree that the sentence was too lenient; however, it was expected. Most people convicted of a class 3 felony in Illinois with no prior criminal record (such as Abbate) will be sentenced to probation. In fact, probation is the recommended sentence for first-time offenders convicted of that crime, and the law favors probation when available. I believe that the law should hold police officers to a higher standard of conduct, and punishments should be more severe. The law enforcement community may object, but shouldn't considering the powers they are granted and the fact they receive greater protections than civilians when they themselves are attacked. But the law does not work that way, so the Judge's sentence was within guidelines. Perhaps this is an area ripe for lobbying our legislators in light of recent news stories. Certainly it is good that a bright light is starting to expose officers who abuse their awesome power (as well as politicians of late). But again, I digress.

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