© Josh Sager – April 2014
Last week, Delaware Judge Jan Jurden became infamous as the latest in a line of judges to hand down outrageously lenient sentences to very wealthy criminals.
In 2009, Robert Richards IV—a trust-fund inheritee to the family that founded DuPont Chemical—was indicted under two counts of child rape, stemming from accusations that he had abused both his 3-year old daughter and his now 19-year old son; eventually, he was allowed to plead guilty to fourth-degree rape in the case of his daughter, while the case involving his son was dropped. This reduction in charges is unbelievably lenient and was a product of a very high-priced legal defense team negotiating for months.
To further compound the injustice of letting this child molester plead to such a lesser offense, Judge Jurden sentenced Robert Richards IV to probation and mandated treatment for raping his 3-year old daughter—he will never see the inside of a jail cell for his crimes.
To justify her absurdly light sentence, Jurden cited concern over “how a person with great wealth may be treated by the system” as well as Richards’s crimes may make him a target in jail. In short, Jurden didn’t want to send a rich man to jail for child rape, simply because he may suffer persecution from the other inmates and she doesn’t want to put him into that environment.
The clear deciding factor in the leniency of this sentence was the wealth of the convicted. Less than two months ago, this same judge sentenced a lower-class man who raped two college students to 37 years in jail. Given the fact that Jurden wasn’t hesitant to send this poor rapist to prison, it becomes apparent, that she thinks that jails are only for the poor rapists (I give her the token credit by not assuming that her sympathy lies with child-rapists and incestuous rapists over rapists who target of-age strangers should be locked up).
What does it say about society when a judge excuses a man from jail time and lets him live free in society because his crimes are so repulsive that even hardened convicts find living with him intolerable? Even worse, what does it say about that judge that she clearly is willing to hold this wealthy man above the law, despite the fact that he has committed one of the most heinous crimes?
Personally, I could care less about the prison-life of any child-rapist and would support throwing away the key on this and virtually every similar rapist. Child molesters simply don’t stop committing their crimes and letting them escape prison with light sentences just leads to more children being harmed.
Unfortunately, this case is not an isolated incident, and is merely an illustration of a far-larger problem in the American legal system.
In recent years, it has been made abundantly clear that wealth and power can allow some criminals to buy their way out of trouble in American courts. This corruption of the American justice system exists on all levels of the government and pervades every stage of the prosecution:
After being arrested, many wealthy individuals are able to secure deals or avoid prosecution altogether by threatening a long and costly legal fight. By hiring an army of high-priced lawyers, these wealthy Americans can use boutique defenses and flood the DA with motions that shut down the office via attrition; as DA offices are already starved for resources and DAs are judged by their conviction rates, the threat of an immensely time-consuming and costly case (where there is a low likelihood of winning) is effective in compelling many DAs to treat wealthy defendants as though they are above the law.
The largest and most damning instances of this type of corruption have involved banking interests. For example: After multinational banking interests brought the western economy to its knees in 2008, no high-level bankers were arrested for fraud. Additionally, no bankers were arrested when it was revealed that they were fixing the LIBOR interest rate, defrauding the public of millions, nor when HSBC was revealed to have laundered money for terrorists, cartels and warlords.
While preparing for a trial, wealthy defendants are able to afford bail and are far more likely to be free during this time than the poor. As trials can be lengthy, this differential can give years of freedom to the guilty rich, while stealing years of life from innocent poor Americans.
During a trial, a wealthy person is able to obtain the best defense that money can buy. As opposed to those who rely on legal-aid—which is perpetually overworked and under-staffed—these wealthy defendants can dedicate the efforts of an entire legal team, filled with lawyers and jury consultants, to securing their freedom. The stereotypical example of this inequality is the OJ Simpson trial, where the Johnny Cochran team allowed the patently guilty OJ (he wrote a book titled “If I Did It” that described the murder in graphic detail using hypothetical language) to escape murder charges.
Once convicted, the wealthy have often found ways to convince judges to reduce their sentences well beyond what a poor person would receive. In addition to the Richards case, one recent example of this type of sentencing was the case where “affluenza” (the belief that you are above the law because you are rich mitigating your responsibility for committing a crime) allowed a wealthy teen to escape jail after being found guilty of killing four people and maiming two others during a DUI, fueled with stolen alcohol.
Finally, wealthy criminals who are convicted and sent to jail for a significant amount of time can hire teams of lawyers to comb over their cases and find any reason for appeal (real or imagined). This access gives them much greater chances of escaping jail sentences than the average convict, most of whom are dependent upon charity or individual effort in order to secure an appeal.
While nothing can be done to get justice for Richards’s children, we can take action to prevent the next miscarriage of justice. Through reforming the legal system to give everybody a more equal playing field and punishing judges who hand down absurd sentences, we can stop the wealthy from buying their way out of trouble.
Judge Jan Jurden must be impeached from the bench, derided by society, and refused all future legal positions. By revealing her willingness to let child-rapists go free if they are only wealthy enough, she has exposed her unworthiness to hold judgment over anybody—she doesn’t even deserve to speak about justice in the lecture circuit nor continue to teach law (she was previously employed by the University of Delaware).