A Brief Lesson On The Judicial System

A judge explains a sentencing in more detail than usual.

In sentencing a former Parkersburg police officer August 23, Wood County Circuit Judge Jeffrey Reed gave a detailed explanation of the reasons for his sentence: a reasoning which included what some may have thought (but wasn't) a rant about the public's, and the press's, emphasis on the sentence, rather than the reasons for it.

"It's not just the headline of 'Former Police Officer Receives Sentence'", he said, which, I admit, was, in fact the headline we gave. "There's reason that goes behind that, just like there's reason behind every sentence I impose. If people want to disagree with the sentence, that's fine."

And disagree they do.  Cable TV news interview/opinion programs often take issue with a judge's sentence on people who committed far worse acts than the police officer did. The problem is, they're not the judge, and they didn't necessarily have the same information about the offender in front of them the judge did. Furthermore, in most jurisdictions, judges are not allowed to comment on their rulings, at least not away from the bench.

So what Judge Reed said about the sentencing of Sgt. Joshua Vensel is unusual, if fair.

Here is more of what the judge had to say:

"There are several goals of sentencing, some of which are deterrents, rehabilitation, protection from the public, punishment, and, in every sentence, there is not an even split among those factors. Some sentences, some goals, are weighed more, some are weighed less. Sentencing is one decision where there must be a balance among a lot of different factors. Most often, the common forms of punishment are a loss of freedom, and a loss of money. However, there are other forms of punishment, or deterrents, that are not so commonly thought about, because they aren't available. But they are (in the Vensel case)."

Referring to Vensel's plea agreement, in which he resigned from the police force, Judge Reed said:  "The court would find that further punishment would serve no useful purpose. It would not serve or accomplish any other goal of sentencing. Therefore, the court believes probation would be appropriate (in suspending his original sentence of jail time)."

The judge is correct. We in the media don't always have the time to explain in detail why a particular sentence is given to a convicted or admitted offender.  I hope this provides some background.


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