Injustice in Michigan
posted by Dave Hoffman
Via Howard B., I read this report on a recent case before Michigan state trial court Judge Michael Martone. According the article, back in May ’05, high school teens were caught drinking at their prom. The school sanctioned them, but they were also sent to Judge Martone on charges of being a minor in possession of alcohol (a misdemeanor). Judge Martone apparently said from the bench (as the students were leaving, perhaps?): “There’s to be no alcohol [in the future.]”
Needless to say, the students went to college, drank, and classically, posted photos of themselves drunk on the web. The pictures were captioned, and some of the captions slurred Martone.
Judge Martone self-googled and found the page. I can’t seem to, which suggests something about our respective googling skills. “”They made a mockery of the legal system,” he said. “I had to do something.” He reported the students to their probation officers and the police, and had the students arrested for contempt of court. The charge: “disobeying [Martone's] direct order not to consume alcohol.” The article tells us what happened next.
Martone began questioning [the student who created the internet page about it], why she created it, and what some of its symbols and profane words meant.
In an exchange of about 45 minutes, Martone reminded her to be honest, as [she] first evaded some questions [she was pro se], then admitted that her Web site did use profanity aimed at Martone, and that she had a drinking problem.
He sentenced her to 30 days in the Oakland County Jail. She was marched off in handcuffs, to spend Christmas and New Year’s Day behind bars.
Martone then sentenced [another student] to 15 days. The two become cellmates.
If this version of the facts is accurate, this story strikes me as deeply troubling on a number of levels.
First, we don’t know if the students were advised of their right to counsel before Judge Marone started to question them. They should have been, as criminal contempt “is a crime in the ordinary sense and . . . the proceedings must comport with the standard of due process applicable in all criminal proceedings.” City of Ann Arbor v. Danish News Co., 139 Mich.App. 218, 361 N.W.2d 772 (Mich. App. 1984). But even if they were, I don’t understand how you can turn an admonishment not to drink into a judicial order specific enough to give rise to a criminal contempt charge. (This assumes that it is constitutional to prohibit 19 year olds from drinking alcohol.) Criminal contempt is serious business: turning a paternalistic admonishment (according to the article) into an open-ended obligation not to consume alcohol is, in my view, questionable.
Second, it makes me uncomfortable when a Judge serves as the police (searching out evidence) the prosecutor (questioning witnesses and forcing them to admit statements against interest) and the jury all at once. This is more problematic given that this particular Judge was insulted personally by the photo captions. Isn’t this just the sort of targeted justice that the Eighth Amendment was designed to prevent?
Third, the story ends by telling us about a third of the students, who appeared before the Judge accompanied by counsel. Smart move.
Martone looked down from the bench and said, ‘I think you’re sincere. And your attorney says you’re sincere.’ He then doubled Senopole’s hours of community service, to 100, but gave her 10 days of jail time — fewer than the other girls — and let her serve them one at a time, on weekends, ‘so it doesn’t interrupt your studies.’
What’s the lesson here? Not to try to criticize judges (like professors?) with gossip? Not to drink? Or not to be pro se?