Judge Rosemarie Aquilina listened to 156 women come forward to talk about how former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar sexually abused them. Nassar was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison. However, it was the judge’s comments during Nassar’s sentencing hearing that have drawn criticism from legal experts. Some believe that she went too far with her judicial statements.
During the sentencing, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina stated, “I’ve just signed your death warrant.” Earlier, she made comments that appeared to condone prison rape. She stated in court “Our Constitution does not allow for cruel and unusual punishment. If it did…I would allow some or many people to do to him what he did to others.”
It is not uncommon for a judge to express their feelings toward someone who is on trial. However, these statements are often in regard to the crimes committed. Judge Michael Russo, who sentenced Ariel Castro in 2013, said: “You don’t deserve to be out in our community. You’re too dangerous.”
In Judge Rosemarie Aquilina’s case, experts believe the language she used and the emotion she expressed appeared to cross the line of judicial impartiality. Indiana University law professor Charles Gardner Geyh told the Huffington Post that Aquilina’s statements went “a step too far.” He continued, “From the law’s perspective, we ought to be saying no sexual assault at all.”
When Judge Rosemarie Aquilina flatly rejected Nassar’s plea to not hear any more testimony from his victims, she was praised by advocates and other victims. Robert Schuwerk, professor emeritus at the University of Houston Law Center, believed her statements came from an honest emotional place and did not raise any legal issues.
Brenda Smith, who is a national expert on prison rape and a law professor at American University was shocked by the judge’s comments. She told Huffington Post: “The reality is that nobody deserves to be victimized. Her comments suggest that in these type of cases, it would be appropriate, in some way, for people like Nassar to be victimized in custody.”
Stephen Gillers, a New York University professor and legal ethics expert pointed to a Supreme Court decision which said that “upon completion of the evidence, be exceedingly ill disposed towards the defendant, who has been shown to be a thoroughly reprehensible person.” Gillers told Huffington Post: “While what the judge said is quite strong, it is not improper.”
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