A judge's view: Youthful mistakes do not need to limit one's future
Sometimes judges need to hear a story about something good that happened to a person in front of them for something bad. Sometimes this helps judges carry through with their day-to-day work. Let's face it, judges could finish a day or a week of w...
Sometimes judges need to hear a story about something good that happened to a person in front of them for something bad. Sometimes this helps judges carry through with their day-to-day work. Let's face it, judges could finish a day or a week of work without hearing a case with anything good associated with it.
Recently, I officiated a wedding at the courthouse after work. It turned out the groom had been in front of me for a variety of juvenile and adult offenses over a period of 11 years. A number of people were at the wedding, including the bride and groom's children. The groom proudly introduced the children to me and told me things were going well for him and his family.
After completing the wedding, I thought back about the times this relatively young man had been in juvenile and adult court. It appeared he had put his history behind him.
While I was thinking about the groom, I remembered another young man who appeared in front of me on the very serious charge of aiding and abetting aggravated robbery. The prosecutor wanted to certify him as an adult. I did not grant the certification, and the matter proceeded through the extended juvenile jurisdiction process.
The young man's jury trial began in June 1996 when he was only 16 years old. He was convicted of the charge by a jury. I sentenced him to an adult sentence of 48 months with the commissioner of corrections, but it was stayed until he was 21 years old. If he did everything right on probation, he would never have an adult conviction.
Why would I remember this young man? Other than the fact this was the first criminal jury trial I presided over as a judge, the young man was more memorable because of what he did afterward. He had no new Minnesota charges after 1996, either in juvenile or adult court -- and he achieved that without parents to financially or emotionally support him, for a variety of reasons. This 16-year-old completed his conditions of probation while supporting himself by working two jobs. He graduated from high school and was accepted at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota. According to his probation officer, he successfully graduated from college.
When this young man turned 21, I obtained his address from the probation officer and wrote him a letter. I congratulated him on his successful completion of probation, his high school graduation and his work at the Carlson school. I offered to write a letter of recommendation for him in the future. He never took me up on my offer but, quite frankly, he probably never needed my assistance.
Whether you're a judge or a newspaper reader who has no contact with the court system, it's good to remember that sometimes good things happen to people who have a bad history.
Heather Sweetland is a 6th Judicial District judge in the St. Louis County Courthouse in Duluth.