Judges see all types of crimes and criminals during their time on the bench. At times they get creative with sentencing if they see a specific need that may be fulfilled by the court’s ruling. Court-ordered Bible study is going too far. This crosses a line that seems inappropriate and out of line.
Cassandra Belle Tolley, 28, pleaded guilty to drunken driving. Tolley was given an eight-year sentence to be followed by five years probation as well as substance abuse counseling. Her sentence did not end there, however, because Circuit Court Judge Michael Nettles also sentences Tolley to read the Book of Job from the Old Testament and submit a report on what she read.
The Charlotte Observer reports, “Similar sentences have raised constitutional concerns, but Tolley’s case is special. ‘Under normal circumstances, the judge wouldn’t have the authority to do that,’ said Kenneth Gaines, a University of South Carolina professor of law specializing in civil and criminal litigation. ‘You can’t just arbitrarily add anything you want to a sentence. But if she consented, it’s really not an issue. It’s critical that the defendant was in entire agreement with it.” This is a rare type of sentence, according to legal experts.
Amy Sikora, the public defender assigned to Tolley’s case, has stated that Tolley was thankful for the assignment and she has already begun working on it. Sikora also reported that Tolley had been a victim of abuse as a child from a family member who had poured gasoline on her when she was 11-years-old before setting her on fire. Tolley has clearly visible scars from being burned on her face. Sikora said that Tolley had turned to alcohol following years of repeated abuse.
On Nov. 12, 2011, Tolley was driving in the wrong lane and she was intoxicated. The York County solicitor’s office reported her blood alcohol was over four times the legal limit at 0.333.
The Charlotte Observer reports, “In prepared statements read in court, the victims said the injuries have dramatically altered their lives. One of the men can’t sit for more than an hour at a time. Rods and screws were surgically implanted to support his spinal column. He relies on family to care for him. The other man has undergone six surgeries and could lose his left foot.”
The Herald Online reports, “The charge Tolley pleaded guilty to, felony driving under the influence causing great bodily injury carries a maximum punishment of 15 years in jail. Jack Swerling, a Columbia defense lawyer who has been trying cases for 40 years, said he hasn’t witnessed a ruling quite like this one. Swerling isn’t connected to Tolley’s case, but he said he has argued cases before Nettles. ‘He is very well respected on both sides of the fence,’ Swerling said. ‘He enjoys a really great reputation. My feeling about Judge Nettles is, he really tries to be fair.’ Given Tolley’s background, the ruling ‘is entirely appropriate,’ Swerling said. ‘It’s pretty clever and creative.”
Although some may support this sentencing, others are opposed. Think Progress reports, “Tolley undoubtedly deserved a stiff sentence, but sentencing someone to a religious activity clearly violates the Constitution’s ban on laws ‘respecting an establishment of religion.’ As conservative Justice explained in Lee v. Weisman, ‘[i]t is beyond dispute that, at a minimum, the Constitution guarantees that government may not coerce anyone to support or participate in religion or its exercise.”
Regardless of the situation, religion has no place in the court room.
For more information about Conservative extremism, click here: http://www.allvoices.com/contributed-new