A Michigan judge is being criticized for throwing people into jail for minor offenses, even as defense attorneys beg for leniency amid fears that the defendants could catch coronavirus while in prison, or potentially bring the deadly pathogen inside.
As the Detroit Free Press reports, Oakland County Judge Leo Bowman has developed a reputation of late for showing little patience for tardiness, or other trivial misdeeds, in his courtroom. Meanwhile, defense attorneys are begging the judge to have some compassion, noting that in the time of coronavirus, a jail sentence is tantamount to a death sentence.
The list of offenses for which Bowman has thrown people into jail is lengthy. A 61-year-old man who was late to court — having just come from urgent care — was reportedly locked up even as he was vomiting into a courtroom trash can. A young mother was imprisoned, and later Bowman declined to release her because she was 20 minutes late to court. As alleged, he did not brook her protestations that her bus had been delayed.
Prospective jurors were jailed for offering excuses as to why they couldn’t serve on a jury. These included a student who said that being on a jury would interfere with his exam schedule; a woman who said she couldn’t serve on the jury for a sexual assault case because she’d been assaulted herself; and a businessman who said that serving on a jury would cause him to miss an upcoming deadline.
Further, Bowman does not appear to have been swayed by pleas that non-violent offenders shouldn’t be jailed due to the coronavirus, the Detroit Free Press added. Specifically, in one order, he wrote that there is no emergency rule in place that prohibits him from jailing individuals due to COVID-19.
Outside of Michigan, the judicial response to the coronavirus varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
As recently as March 17, as Slate reported at the time, many courts were carrying on with business as usual, crowding people into courtrooms to answer for traffic violations and other minor offenses. Some judges, like Bowman, were issuing jail sentences, despite defense attorneys’ pleas that such a sentence could possibly be fatal due to the virus.
However, as reported by The Inquisitr, California’s Santa Clara County is trying to get as many inmates out of its jail as possible, to protect non-violent offenders from potentially contracting the coronavirus.
Back in Michigan, American Civil Liberties (ACLU) attorney Philip Mayor has complained about Bowman’s treatment of defendants.
“We’ve been working with the state to get people out of jail during this crisis. And this judge puts [people] in jail, just for being late,” he said.