Who’s Crazier: Me or Chad Ochocinco?


One man. Two boys. Twelve kids.

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27 Responses

  1. Burt Likko says:

    Well, clearly it wasn’t a “failed” attempt at humor if the courtroom erupted in laughter. Nevertheless, Johnson’s action demonstrates a degree of levity inappropriate to the situation and does suggest that he was not taking what was going on very seriously. As you say, there’s lots of reasons for him to see some time on the inside (mainly the underlying offense against his then-wife).

    I can see how the judge might have been willing to do a light plea deal, reluctantly, if the defendant indicated a degree of remorse and resolve to work towards self-improvement. Rehabilitation, after all, is one of the ostensible goals of the criminal justice system. Demonstrating levity at such a proceeding could be reasonably interpreted as evidence of a lack of remorse, a lack of perception of the gravity of events, and that might conceivably alter the judge’s willingness to approve a plea arrangement.

    Equality is too — again, more ostensibly than realistically. It’s easy to imagine that someone like Johnson, who has at least had substantial money and fame*, might view themselves and be viewed by others, as living on a different and higher plane, one in which justice is more lenient by virtue of the status of the person standing before her. This seems more likely to have been a factor making the judge reluctant to go along with the plea deal in the first place.

    So I can see the ass-slap as a straw breaking a camel’s back, by way of apology for Judge McHugh’s ruling. But with that said, some judges have a hard time checking their egos at the door, and others have bad days and make sterner decisions than they otherwise would when they’re irritated at something or breakfast isn’t agreeing with them. Judges are human beings, after all.

    * It’s not clear to me if Mr. Johnson still enjoys good money; I understand he’s not living nearly as high on the hog as during his peak NFL years.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Burt Likko says:

      Thanks for this breakdown, Burt. You offer a line of reasoning wherein his demeanor seems appropriate to consider.

      But I must ask…

      “Judges are human beings, after all.”

      For the reasons mentioned above this quote, do you consider this a feature or a bug?

      Maybe I’m crazy, but whenever I hear the word “discretion”, I think “potential for abuse” rather than “reasonable”.Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to Kazzy says:

        Feature or bug? Both, but more feature than bug. If you could have sentences imposed by a computer based on a relatively limited set of quantifiable factors, would you prefer that? I would not, even given the risk that you’d get a judge on a bad day.Report

        • Kazzy in reply to Burt Likko says:

          I might prefer that. And I can imagine certain people who would greatly prefer that. Why would you not?Report

          • Burt Likko in reply to Kazzy says:

            I wouldn’t because a computer needs to have every relevant factor programmed into it before it approaches a task, and it can’t even begin to read faces and other nuances of human expression. The variety of human behaviors is so vast that a computer simply cannot take stock of the whole person before it, and it’ll be a long time before it can. If we care about the kinds of things that require an assessment of the person before the court, then we need another human being making an evaluation, as subjective as that might be.Report

        • Annelid Gustator in reply to Burt Likko says:

          Did you see the thing about (I think it was) parole hearings in Israel? Forget bad *day* and remember that proximity to a meal was a hugely important factor in their lenience or lack thereof!Report

        • Kimmi in reply to Burt Likko says:

          It’s only a feature when the judge winds up fining himself for his cellphone going off in court. 😉Report

    • zic in reply to Burt Likko says:

      This sounds about right to me. Making light of legal proceedings is a pretty good way to have things not go your way, from what I’ve seen.

      Dressing respectfully, acting respectfully, and maintaining your emotional control are pretty essential; particularly in domestic violence cases. And ladies, that ‘dress right’ does not mean the power suit, it means the demure dress with the lace collar. Often, these cases are just ‘he said, she said,’ and the judge had got to make a decision based on character judgements.

      I’d guess that’s why they call them ‘judges.’

      Because we really do depend on them to make judgement calls now and then.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to zic says:

        Does this risk sending a message that disrespecting the court is somehow worse than domestic violence? “We’ll let you avoid jailtime after headbutting your wife, but goddamnit, no one disrespects the court!”

        I dunno… I’m not sure it does, because the offenses compounded each other… but I wonder…Report

        • zic in reply to Kazzy says:

          Accepting a plea bargain from someone who’s committed serious assault on a loved one sort of shows that a lot of things are more important then domestic violence, imo.

          In many states, someone’s likely to get more jail time for a joint then for disjointing their partner.

          And you went right to the heart of what troubled me here; I said what I said because it seems to be the place where so many people fail to get anything remotely like justice in the system; perceptions and impressions often hold more sway the you or I might find seemly.Report

          • Kazzy in reply to zic says:

            I’m reminded of a study I read about regarding tryouts for an orchestra. The orchestra was overwhelmingly male, but the organizers said this was simply coincidental: they chose the best musicians and if they were predominantly male, so be it.

            Then they conducted a round of tryouts during which the performer played behind a screen, with all evidence of their sex obscured. The result was a much more balanced orchestra.

            I wonder what incarceration rates would look like if defendants were behind screens. I understand why body language, facial expressions, tone, and other forms of non-verbal communication are important pieces in a trial. However, I also suspect they are often abused and/or impact the outcome in ways we’d rather they not.

            I don’t know what the solution is.

            Chad Johnson should almost certainly be in jail. He violently assaulted his wife, a fact he does not deny. But why he is in jail just seems screwy to me.Report

  2. Kolohe says:

    Is it right that in my reaction to the story, it mattered that the attorney was a man or a woman? (I thought it was a woman based on the preview in Off the Cuff)Report

  3. Shazbot5 says:

    It’s tricky.

    I get that judges should be lenient on those who show contrition and maybe elss so on those who show no contrition. As Burt says, the goal of the justic system is, partially, to rehabilitate, and contrition is a part of that.

    That said, I think judges shouldn’t assume they can know about how contrite a person is by how they look in the courtroom. Anyone can fake a show of contrition. And some eccentric people who are feeling contrite, might not look like it in a courtroom. The danger of judging a defendant by how contrite they look is you risk your judgment being effected by racism, sexism, ageism, and all sorts of nasty and illogical biases.

    So it’s a hard call.

    Personally, I think this is more about judges making examples of people who don’t show maximum respect to the legal process and the court. (It’s about respecting and fearing the court more than showing contrition.) There are pros and cons to making such examples. Pros: It scares people to be honest and honorable when testifying or at court or on a jury. Cons: Again, you’re likely to make these biases unfairly against people who are eccentric, a little mentally ill, subconsciously on looks race and gender, etc.Report

  4. Jim Heffman says:


  5. Stillwater says:

    But it seems to me that whether or not a plea agreement is accepted, whether or not a man goes to jail, should be based on the facts of his case, not how the judge feels about his behavior in court.

    Don’t “should” on me, Kazzy. As someone who’s been before a judge more times than I’d like to admit, I can tell you from first hand experience that the first, foremost, most-importantist aspect a judge cares about is respect for the law, respect for officers of the law, and respect for legal procedure. Without that, you’re hosed.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Stillwater says:

      I once had to appear for a summons for something rather silly, but was exactly the sort of thing the city could make some quick bucks by issuing and holding people accountable for.

      I arrived to the hearing (or whatever it was) in slacks, a jacket, and a tie. There were many, many other people waiting on their various summonses. Most were not dressed as formally as I, and several were considerably more casual (basketball shorts, sleeveless T’s, etc.). The judge seemed pretty harsh, though never explicitly commented on their appearance or demeanor, just the facts of their case. Until I was called. I didn’t get halfway up the aisle before the judge dismissed my case provided I didn’t get into any more trouble for 6 months.

      How much of this was my appearance, how much was my race (I was one of just a few white people there), how much were the facts of the case, I dunno. And while I appreciated a quick and speedy resolution in my favor, it sat with me that my race and/or clothing had seemed to play such a big and obvious part in my good fortune.Report

  6. Matty says:

    I’m actually reassured that judges can reject a plea bargain as I had misunderstood this as something where the defence and prosecution could stitch up a deal that effectively removed the courts ability to set the sentence.Report

    • Mike Schilling in reply to Matty says:

      Jonathan Pollard is in prison for life because the judge rejected his plea deal.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        I don’t object to judges having this power; it seems an appropriate check on the prosecutor’s office. I just struggle with it being used in the way demonstrated here, though concede that this particular case might not be as egregious as it first seemed to me (H/T Burt Likko).Report