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Judge Conaway Gets Cart Before Horse

It’s not the first time he’s done it. In fact, it wasn’t the only time he did it Tuesday.
Polls show the public overwhelmingly supports tough sentences for criminals unless, of course, the one being sentenced is friend or family member
Houston County Judge Michael Conaway paused and contemplated his next words. Strain showed on his face knowing that a man’s life hinged what he did. Admitting being a judge isn’t always easy, Conaway then ordered Franklin Whaples to serve five years probation. But it was what Conaway did next that may have caught some by surprise. He ordered Whaples to serve five years in prison---after probation.

Split sentences are common but usually they are a prison term followed by probation. For instance, a person could be sentenced to five years behind bars then five years probation. However, in Whaples case, Conaway put the cart before the horse---a bold yet sensible move.

And it’s not the first time he’s done it. In fact, it wasn’t the only time he did it Tuesday. A couple of hours earlier Conaway sentenced former National Guard officer Ryan Gericke to a similar sentence over the objections of prosecutors.

Both men were convicted of sex-related crimes. Whaples admitted guilt to transmitting obscene material and possessing child pornography. Gericke was found guilty of electronically soliciting sex from a child in a police sting operation where there actually was no child. Instead of a teenage rendezvous, Gericke was “greeted” by undercover officers when he showed up presumably to have sex.

Polls show the public overwhelmingly supports tough sentences for criminals unless, of course, the one being sentenced is friend or family member. Then they usually plead for leniency. It’s easy to be in favor of tough sentencing but it’s another to pay for it. Most of us don’t want to cough up additional tax dollars to fund prisons that have been overcrowded for decades.

Judge Conaway’s decision to order reverse split sentences makes perfect sense. The five year probationary period gives him a chance to monitor the offenders on a continuing basis. If they behave he has the option to suspend their prison terms. If they don’t he can send them to prison quicker than the Auburn football team can score.

“I expect you to conduct yourself consistent with the directions I’ve given you,” Conaway told Whaples. He minced no words. If Wamples doesn’t fly right he’ll go to prison. Gericke was ordered to wear an ankle monitor so his whereabouts can be known at all times. He, too, can be put in a prison jump suit at anytime over the next five years.

Finding a balance in sentencing criminal offenders can be difficult. There must be a balance between punishment, protecting the public, and using good old-fashion common sense.

The reverse split sentences ordered by Judge Conaway does all three.

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