Larry Nassar, the infamous USA Gymnastics doctor recently convicted of sexual assault upon children and possession of child pornography (some of which he made himself), is, to say the least, not a likable guy. Considering that he is now 54 years old and was sentenced to 60 years on the federal child pornography charge last month, he already had an effective life sentence before today’s sentencing on the state sex assault charges.
At today’s sentencing, Michigan Circuit Court Judge Rosemarie Aquilina decided on a sentence of 40 to 175 years for the sexual assault charges. Considering he plead guilty to assaulting 10 children and nearly 200 others have accused him of the same, that sentence isn’t at all surprising. What did surprise me, however, were the comments coming from Judge Aquilina:
“It is my honor to sentence you because, sir, you do not deserve to walk outside of a prison ever again. Anywhere you walk, destruction would occur to those most vulnerable. I just signed your death warrant.”
Perhaps it’s just because I’m preparing for a law school ethics exam, but this immediately suggested judicial bias to me. A judge has a duty to recuse his or herself in the event of either personal bias or the appearance of the same. By itself, this probably would not be enough to prove judicial misconduct, but was enough for me to read through coverage of earlier proceedings, where Judge Aquilina stated as follows:
“Our Constitution does not allow for cruel and unusual punishment. If it did, I have to say, I might allow what he did to all of these beautiful souls, these young women in their childhood, I would allow some or many people to do to him what he did to others.”
Did she seriously just say that, if not restrained by the Constitution, she would hand out sentences that ordered the sexual assault of a convict? This makes me question not just her personal bias but her fitness to be a judge. Rape is not acceptable in our society, it’s not “funny” or “cool” or “tough” to wish it on someone, and that doesn’t change if it takes place in a prison or if the victim is an evil person.
If our goal is to dismantle the “rape culture,” Judge Aquilina’s comments are not helpful in moving us forward. Mr. Nassar’s victims deserved justice, and in order to best deliver that justice and ensure no possibility of appeal for judicial misconduct, comments like the above should be omitted from the courtroom.