Does the sentence for a heinous crime speak for itself? Or does justice demand that judges make critical comments toward defendants who have been found guilty of heinous crimes during their sentencing hearings? These are two of the questions that Mark Kleiman takes up in a recent commentary for Fortune on the Larry Nassar trial—a trial in which the presiding judge, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, made comments during the sentencing hearing about the type of cruel and unusual punishment that Nassar might be in for if the Constitution permitted it.
I would prefer a system in which a judge calmly explains the basis for a sentence—perhaps including a statement about why the underlying crime was so appalling—but doesn’t subject the defendant to insults that add to the injury already inflicted by the sentence. Judges who openly malign defendants sow doubt about their impartiality.
More judicial restraint would add to the solemnity of the sentencing process. But since Michigan law does not require such restraint, it is difficult to criticize this judge for acting as she did under maximum provocation.
But discussions about reforming that practice can come later. What needs to come now is a more comprehensive reckoning. Nassar isn’t the only person with criminal liability in this situation. Many of the people who ignored the victims’ complaints had legal obligations to report child abuse—and they must be brought to justice.
Photo courtesy of Unsplash.