Feature Writer John Christie – Justice or Leniency?

In May of 2012, Charles E. Hamilton of Rumford, Maine stole various items from his neighbor which were valued at $11,000. What transpired from this act is not what you may expect, though.

When Mr. Hamilton appeared in court for judgment and sentencing, the presiding judge, Justice Robert W. Clifford, only issued Hamilton a two-year deferred disposition instead of a felony burglary charge. A deferred disposition means that he must pay $50 a month to the district attorney’s office until he reaches the total maximum restitution of $1,200–a fraction of the total value of stolen goods. He also has to refrain from committing another crime during this time of repayment. If he fails to meet these conditions, he will have to spend five years in jail and pay a $5,000 fine. However, if he abides to the judge’s orders, he will be able to plead guilty to Class D Misdemeanor Theft and all other charges will be dropped. For Mr. Hamilton, this is a very good deal.

So why such a light sentence? Well, some feel that it is because Mr. Hamilton is legally blind and is on disability. However, according to others, the judge was so lenient was because the victim knew Hamilton and was letting him live in her house. According to the Prosecutor, Joseph O’Connor, there were a bunch of issues in regard to proof on this case because she had allowed Hamilton to take some things, so there was some trouble determining what he was and was not allowed to use or take. That is the merit that the verdict was based upon, according to them, and not his disability.

The National Federation of the Blind of Maine was outraged in regards to the decision made by the judge about this case. They feel that the book should have been thrown at Hamilton and he should have been punished to the fullest extent of the law. Patricia Estes, Mark Tardif, as well as former member of the NFB Steve Hoad, feel that blindness did play a role in the courts’s decition. In an email to the Sun Journal following an NFB Maine meeting, Estes said that justice wasn’t served in this case because Hamilton got off easy and he got out of a felony feft with no time served and was no compensation for the victim. In a letter to the Sun Journal, Tardif said that just because he is blind, the consequences of his criminal behavior should not be lessened for him. They all agree that this decision will affect how employers of Maine will treat the blind. In essence, they want to be treated like everybody else, including criminal punishment.

To me, the judge’s decision was a good one, since it was Hamilton’s first crime and it was difficult to determine evidence, according to the prosecution. However, he should have to pay back the full amount to the victim, as $1,200 doesn’t even come close to the value of the items stolen.

How to you stand on this issue? Do you feel that such a lenient ruling was a result of his disability, or do you feel that the lack of hard evidence and prior criminal record bought him some sympathy from the court? Tell us in the Reader’s Forum.

Source: https://nfb.org/images/nfb/publications/bm/bm13/bm1303/bm130312.htm


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