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Two-timing the justice system

Pedophile priest Paul Shanley was sentenced today for molesting a 6-year-old boy 20 years ago. He was convicted on two counts of raping a child, and sentenced to serve 12 to 15 years in prison for each count. But as seems hideously appropriate for a case like this, justice immediately demonstrated its perversity.

Now, this was in Massachusetts, so there's a certain amount of liberal idiocy involved. Under Massachusetts laughingly-called "laws," Shanley must serve 2/3 of the minimum before being eligible for parole. Also, he can get "credit" for up to one year for "good behavior."

But the thing that really disgusted me was a legal concept that, sadly, isn't confined to Massachusetts. To most people, if someone was given two sentences of 12 to 15 years, they'd expect that meant they'd be serving 24 to 30 years. But somewhere the legal system discovered this wonderful concept called "concurrent sentencing."

Under concurrent sentencing, one serves all one's sentences all at once. It doesn't matter if you get convicted once or five hundred times, if you are serving 12-15 concurrently, you only serve 12-15 once.

Maybe I'm old-fashioned, maybe I'm stupid, maybe I'm just vindictive. But in Shanley's case, he was convicted on two counts of raping a child, and sentenced to a minimum of 12 years on each count. I want at least 24 years from that son-of-a-bitch. He's 74 now. If he drops dead tomorrow, I don't want him taken out of that cell until 2029. And I find it beyond my comprehension that he theoretically could be a free man (albeit on parole for 10 more years) in seven years.


Update: Apparently I wasn't clear enough above. Let me try again: one of my favorite aphorisms is "a difference that makes no difference is no difference." I understand the concept of concurrent sentencing; what I have always failed to grasp was the reasoning behind it. For all intents and purposes, Shanley is serving a single sentence for a single conviction. The second conviction is utterly moot -- it has no effect whatsoever. If that was going to happen, why even bother bringing people up on multiple charges, or convict them? They're only going to serve the sentence of the single harshest...


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Comments (27)

That's the way the rock rol... (Below threshold)

That's the way the rock rolls. Take a law course; you'll get it, trust me.


Massachussetts has a long a... (Below threshold)

Massachussetts has a long and tortured history with people convicted of sexually abusing minors. Google Gerald Amirault to read up on the controversy. This is not to say that the controversy justifies concurrent sentencing, or even that it is a proximate cause, but there do seem to be problems with MA's ability to convict people truly guilty of these heinous crimes.

Jay,I wouldn't sus... (Below threshold)


I wouldn't suspect that he'll be walking out of that prison. Old child molesters find prison to be hazardous to their health.

Don't get too worked up about it.

And as far as concurrent sentencing, it's everywhere, and accepted. It's certainly logical from certain points of view. But it's almost always an option in sentencing. So your problem seems less with the system than with the decision to allow him to serve concurrently.

This isn't the instance tha... (Below threshold)

This isn't the instance that worries me. What worries me is the 25 year-old-pedophile convicted of the same charges who will be out when he/she is 32 and put back in public to repeat the crimes.

Pedophilia is not like other crimes. Many of these people simply cannot control themselves and will repeat their crimes every time they are given a chance. We need laws that recognize this and punish offenders accordingly.

If that means we have to let a few more petty thieves or marijuana smokers out of prison to make room then so be it. Its about priorities. I'd rather have them on the street than people like the monster described above.

Unless Masshole is unlike e... (Below threshold)

Unless Masshole is unlike every other jurisdiction (which it could be), the judge has to state the reasons for the sentence he imposes on the record. So, why he did what he did, is out there somewhere.

New York has similar laws. ... (Below threshold)

New York has similar laws. We have something called "conditional release" meaning that as long as the inmate has served that 2/3 of his sentence with no problems, he gets parole even if the parole board wants to hold him.

Yet another reason to move out of NY. Between the laws and Hillary and her other half.....sheesh.

(BTW....speaking of Hill and Bill, d'you suppose either of them are able to refer to the other as "my better half" with a straight face?)

Prosecutors file multiple c... (Below threshold)

Prosecutors file multiple charges in the hopes that one of them will stick. This is the same as when they charge someone with "conspiracy" to commit this crime or that one. The idea is that you throw enough shit at them, something is bound to stick. It is also a tool to encourage them to plea-bargain, which has sadly become SOP for the American legal system. The cops think you raped someone but the evicence isn't a slam dunk? Well plea guilty to sexual misconduct and you'll be out in 1 to 3. What, you think you're innocent? Well in that case we're going all out on your butt and if you're conviced its now 25 to life. Now do you want to deal? There are untold numbers of innocent people who plead guilty to crimes they did not commit because the penalties for being wrongfully convicted are so severe that it is often more practical to take your lumps and get on with your life than stand firm on principle.

I have no problem with plea bargaining in and of itself. What I do have a problem with is how it has essentially replaced trial by one's peers in this country. Off topic I know but still pertinent in a way because I'm sure that this priest was offered a deal. Had he taken it, you can be sure he'd be out before the end of the decade.


Just to amplify Lee for a m... (Below threshold)

Just to amplify Lee for a moment- the reason the snipers, John Allen Muhammad and Lee Malvo have been charged, tried, and convicted is to utterly eliminate the chances of them ever being free again. IIRC, both have already been sentenced to death in Virginia, and more trials for more victims are yet to come.

But men with 4 (or more) death sentences over the heads won't be released just because they draw one Massachusetts-style judge.

So yes, as far as I'm concerned, those guys can serve their death (and life) sentences concurrently.

Their freedom is completely forfeit by this prosecutorial overkill.

Concurrent sentencing is us... (Below threshold)
Just Me:

Concurrent sentencing is used everywhere and to be honest is probably mostly used in order to keep prison populations under control.

But also, it actually makes sense in some cases. For instance writing bad checks. If somebody wrote 20 bad checks above the felony limit (varies by state, but in KY it was $100), they would have 20 seperate felony charges, and if convicted on all of those they could be looking at 20-100 years, if the sentences were run consecutively. Now I don't know about you, but 20 years for writing bad checks is a little high. I do agree though, when it comes to violent/sexual crimes, it seems a bit much for sentences to run concurrent. Although in these cases judges usually have a formula that determines whether the sentences should be concurrent or consecutive, but I am not familiar enough with Massachussette's law to know how much descretion the judge has in this.

Cindy's off her rocker.... (Below threshold)

Cindy's off her rocker.

The Monk has taken too many law courses for words, and no matter how many you take, it won't help you "understand" or accept concurrent sentencing for paedophiles. Thankfully, however, The Monk lives in the South, where murderers and paeds get punished (unless the jury is a bunch of morons in Galveston, Texas)

One of The Monk's old bosses was a former Asst. DA and he prosecuted the paeds. He PROUDLY kept copies of the mugshots of everyone of those SOBs he'd put away for life.

I would too.

I know I'm splitting hairs ... (Below threshold)

I know I'm splitting hairs here but wouldn't 2/3 of his minimum 12 years be 8? Eight years in prison for a 74 year old pedophile sounds like a life sentence to me. Or a death sentence as the case may be.
And while I agree with Rob that it's worrisome to think of younger criminals getting off so lightly, this is a little much:

Pedophilia is not like other crimes. Many of these people simply cannot control themselves and will repeat their crimes every time they are given a chance. We need laws that recognize this and punish offenders accordingly.

While I agree that pedophiles and other sex criminals are not like other criminals per se, we cannot sentence a person based upon what they might do in the future, only what they have been proven to have done.

Mantis, it's 2/3, THEN minu... (Below threshold)
Jay Tea:

Mantis, it's 2/3, THEN minus one year for good behavior. Remember, this is Massachusetts we're talking about -- always give the scumbag every break you can.


The option to impose concur... (Below threshold)

The option to impose concurrent or consecutive sentences gives the judge discretion to evaluate everyone on a case-by-case basis. The logic is that the judge is in the best position to do so, since he sees all the evidence -- admissible or not -- and is most familiar with the case. Once the conviction is in, it is time for sentencing, and the judge gets a presentencing report that talks about people's opinions of the criminal, every minor or major infraction he's ever been involved in, any police reports, academic records, mental health history, you name it. Plus interviews with the victim/family members, the defendant, neighbors, etc. The judge takes that info, the prosecutor's and the defense attorney's recommendations, and makes a decision.

This is good if you believe that judges can make these kinds of evaluations and that we should evaluate crime on a case-to-case basis. This is bad if you think everyone should be treated equally no matter the circumstances, ala mandatory sentencing. So it depends on what you think the role of judges should be in the criminal justice system.

I worked in the criminal justice system for some time, on post-sentencing matters, and never saw a case where I thought the judge made the wrong sentencing decision. That has really revived my faith in the system, but I know not everyone feels that way.

Hmmm, seems the real proble... (Below threshold)

Hmmm, seems the real problem is that it took 20 years for this case to get to trial.

OK, fine, then, Jennifer. D... (Below threshold)
Jay Tea:

OK, fine, then, Jennifer. Draw on your vast legal experience and give me a rationale or two for giving this man who violated his sacred oaths and repeatedly raped a six-year-old boy any breaks whatsoever? I'll even pass on the opening you gave me about "unadmissible evidence" that includes numerous other people who said he raped them as children, too. Just stick to this single case he was convicted for.


Hobgoblin is right. Shanley... (Below threshold)

Hobgoblin is right. Shanley is a dead man walking. Look what happened to his colleague Geoghan. The judge could have given him an 8-MONTH sentence, but the result will be the same, you'll see. Note that the judge could have sent him to a county lockup (as he requested), but he's going into a state prison instead. I've worked in the criminal justice system myself. Believe me, the cons are salivating in anticipation of what they're going to do to him.

Personally, I hope they take it long and slow.

I'm not an expert in Mass. ... (Below threshold)

I'm not an expert in Mass. law, but generally a consecutive sentence is given when the counts arise out of the same set of operative facts and occurred on the same occasion and there are not multiple victims. Not knowing what he was charged with and the dates, I don't know if this even applies.

Also, he gets credits for any time in custody he did awaiting trial.

As for sentencing errors: most errors found on appeal are sentencing errors.

Actually, there is one reas... (Below threshold)
voiceguy in LA:

Actually, there is one reason for going after convictions on multiple counts even where there might be concurrent sentencing. Sometimes, perhaps even years after the fact, one of the convictions may be set aside. (This happened in Washington State recently, when a state Supreme Court decision had the effect of nullifying a large number of felony murder convictions.) If the defendant is serving a concurrent sentence for conviction on another count, and there is no defect in that conviction, then the guy stays in the hoosegow.

Now, of course, the same thing would happen with consecutive sentences; the unserved sentence on the valid conviction would still be there, presumably. But the explanation above answers your question of "why bother with multiple-count prosecutions?" when there is a prospect of concurrent sentencing.

You were plenty clear, Jay ... (Below threshold)

You were plenty clear, Jay and I understand your frustrations with the law but it is the law, who made it and their reasonings behind it, is something I can't answer; it just IS. And it was made long long time ago. If I had my Law book, I probably could come up with a better answer but all I can tell you is that is just the way it is all over the country and it's up to the judge to dispense that kind of sentence. Besides if Shanley died and you kept him in the cell anyway till 2029, it would really smell. As it is, he'll have to be in confinement away from other inmates until he dies or gets out in his late 80's. I think he's been through enough already.

And I went to a Catholic School for 8 years. What he did was awful indeed but it happened 20 years ago. I think you're asking for a harsher sentence than would normally be given. It's the ones who do it for years and years with many boys that really need that harsh sentence. He may have caused harm to one boy, but that's it. The sentence should fit the crime. And in some places, it's not a crime at all. In different states murder carries different sentences and that makes no sense to me at all. Just because it's Massachusetts, your nemesis, you're getting all riled up about the sentence. Check out other states and their sentences. Don't get so worked up over this, it's not worth it. He's not worth it.


Cindy:I don't accept... (Below threshold)
Jay Tea:

I don't accept that "it just IS." To me, it's an outrage, and desperately needs to be corrected. Outrages like this need attention, or they'll keep happening.
I also don't accept that "it was 20 years ago" as a mitigating circumstance. Time should not lessen the severity of the offense, nor the severity of the penalty.


Well, unfortunately sweetie... (Below threshold)

Well, unfortunately sweetie, it just is that way - and not just in Massachusetts.


I don't know-I strongly sus... (Below threshold)
Just Me:

I don't know-I strongly suspedt that had this priest been tried in the South, rather than Massachussettes the sentence probably would have been longer.

Also, I have to agree with Jay that the crime being 20 years old shouldn't mitigate the sentence at all. The crime still happened, and he shouldn't get off lightly, because he didn't get caught when he did it.

Mantis:While I... (Below threshold)


While I agree that pedophiles and other sex criminals are not like other criminals per se, we cannot sentence a person based upon what they might do in the future, only what they have been proven to have done.

There are pedophiles being released into the population who are telling their counsellors that they will repeat their crimes. Tell me why we shouldn't have recourse to keep people like that off the street?

we cannot sentence a per... (Below threshold)

we cannot sentence a person based upon what they might do in the future, only what they have been proven to have done.

No, but we can, and do, civilly commit them in California:
A person convicted of substantial sexual conduct against two or more victims under age 14, and has been diagnosed with a mental disorder making them dangerous in that it is likely that they will reoffend, can be civilly committed. (Welf. & Inst. Code, § 6600 et seq)

Hey, I didn't write the law... (Below threshold)

Hey, I didn't write the laws! Now that other priest who abused lots of children for years and years, sentenced about a year or so ago, ended up dying in prison. That man was atrocious. The law applies to only the last five years. To change that, it would have to be on the ballot next time you vote. Like Rob says, it's the ones they let out everyday that are the real problem when they should be locked up forever. The only recourse we have is petitioning and getting it on a ballot, vote on it or the Supreme Court puts a cap on it for each offense. You need to go to the lawmakers and push them into changing the pre-existing law. In regards to Massachusetts, they recently defrocked and booted 7 priests and they are thinking about changing the 5 year back only. Rape of women is also five years. No one ever said it was right or humane but they are trying to vote on whether to extend the 5 year limit. Best bet - write your state reps before the vote so it can indeed be changed.

I am astounded that none of... (Below threshold)

I am astounded that none of you seem to know that this criminal has a well documented history of molestation and rape of boys that stretched over thirty years.

When the courts subpoenaed church records they found over one thousand pages of incriminating evidence. Children reported rape by this monster starting in 1967. The church transferred him from parish to parish, state to state to keep his activity quiet all the while exposing more unsuspecting boys to his crimes.

He was openly a member of NAMBLA and gave speeches at meetings that were reprinted in brochures and still the church covered up for him. I hope he dies in prison.

Well the way i see it, is t... (Below threshold)

Well the way i see it, is that sex-offenders in prison often get what they have gave.Convicts look at it as if it could have been there son or daughter that he could have raped and more often than none will rape that individual.As for me i hope they do..Like the good book say's an eye for an eye.Mabye they'll stick a broom stick way up his ass like the did Jeffery Dahmer.....






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