Defense lawyers get a lot of grief for a lot of reasons: they thrive on technicalities, they charge high fees, they advocate for the obviously guilty. They don’t get much credit for working the system pro bono to free the innocent. On June 12 the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association did just that, honoring two longtime lawyers, Mike Ware and Keith Hampton, with the Percy Foreman Lawyer of the Year award at the twenty-seventh annual Rusty Duncan Advanced Criminal Law Course in San Antonio.
The dismantling of a prison unit in suburban Houston in 2011. (AP/Pat Sullivan)
It’s become a familiar scene, especially in Texas: an innocent man walks out of prison, where he’s met by an exuberant crowd of family, lawyers, and journalists. The members of his family hug him, cry, and laugh with relief. His lawyers stand before the gathered press and raise serious questions about how the state could have made such a terrible mistake to lock up an innocent man.
Twenty-year-old Sir Young pled guilty to the 2011 rape of a 14-year-old girl, but a lot of what happened in his case was strange: especially his sentence. In April, State District Judge Jeanine Howard opted to put Young on probation, ordering him to perform 250 hours of community service at a rape crisis center and to spend 45 days in jail, but exempted him from some of the probation conditions that sex offenders typically face.
I've argued in this space in the past that I'd prefer to see both jail as a sentence and sex offender registration utilized cautiously, but it also seems as though caution should be used when ordering a convicted rapist to spend 250 hours in a facility intended to make rape survivors feel safe. But it became clear after Howard spoke to the media that her idea of who the real victim was in the incident between Young and the young teenager he was convicted of raping wasn't necessarily the girl. As the Dallas Morning News reports:
Howard said she made her decision for several reasons, including: The girl had texted Young asking him to spend time with her; the girl had agreed to have sex with him but just didn’t want to at school; medical records show the girl had three sexual partners and had given birth to a baby; and Young was barely 18 at the time.
“She wasn’t the victim she claimed to be,” Howard said. “He is not your typical sex offender.”
At best, Howard, who recused herself from further involvement in the case so she could speak to the media, seems to suggest that an 18-year-old who pursues sex with a 14-year-old girl is committing a lesser crime if the young teenager, who is legally unable to consent to the act, texts him in advance; at worst, they imply that, because the girl may have had sex in the past, she can't be the victim of rape.