By now you have likely heard about the latest chapter in the national discussion over judges handing down preposterously lenient sentences to people convicted of heinous crimes. It came to us from Montana, where District Judge John McKeon sentenced a man to 60 days in jail (with credit for time already served) for repeatedly raping his prepubescent daughter. The public outcry over that decision was fast and furious, and now a Change.org petition drawing tens of thousands of signatures calling for his impeachment has been assembled for the governor. (Fox News)

An online petition calling for the impeachment of a Montana judge over the sentencing of a 40-year-old man to 60 days in jail after he pleaded guilty to raping his 12-year-old daughter has more than 30,000 signatures…

The author of the Change.org petition against McKeon said it was sent to Montana Gov. Steve Bullock and other officials. Bullock’s office and at least one other official said Tuesday they had not received it.

We’ve seen some cases of lenient sentencing where there’s room to argue the merits of a more progressive sentencing structure, but for most any decent human being this isn’t one of them. Judges generally can’t simply be fired on a moment’s notice, so in McKeon’s case he would need to be impeached. Should Governor Bullock heed the demands of the public here or does the judge have a reasonable argument to excuse his decision? According to the laws in his state, there’s a technicality which covers this situation. (Washington Post)

According to McKeon, the law allows those arrested for incest involving someone under 12 years old to avoid prison if a psychosexual evaluation finds that psychiatric treatment “affords a better opportunity for rehabilitation of the offender and for the ultimate protection of the victim and society.”

The judge wrote this is one of Montana’s attempts “to encourage and provide opportunities for an offender’s self-improvement, rehabilitation and reintegration back into a community.”

Here’s that double edged sword which seems to come up every time we discuss mandatory sentencing laws. There are clearly cases which arise where extenuating circumstances make it reasonable for judges to retain some discretion before handing down a massive prison sentence. But it’s almost impossible to frame such rules in a way which doesn’t leave the door open for some particularly odious criminals to get off easy. In this case the judge’s excuse appears to be a complete joke. Obviously some defendants are caught up in extreme situations and might benefit from community based treatment rather than decades in the slammer, but this guy repeatedly raped his own little girl. You can’t just let that slide, even if the family members are arguing against jail. Sometimes the family just can’t see the larger picture and will circle the wagons to protect one of their own.

So what’s to be done? If we can’t craft the laws to fit every situation but still wish to allow judges some flexibility, the ones who grossly abuse the provisions of sentencing laws need to be punished to set an example for the rest. So in this case, yes. This judge needs to be impeached and it will hopefully send a message to other judges should they be faced with similar situations in their own courtrooms.

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