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Being human, judges can make even severely damaging mistakes

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A recent Virginia appellate opinion reminds us what we already know: Being human, judges can make serious mistakes. Parties’ lawyers, must be at the ready to prevent and remedy those mistakes.

Latasha Gordon was convicted at trial for two counts of unlawful wounding (each count carrying up to five years in prison, as a class 6 felony)  and petty theft (carrying up to a year of incarceration). Gordon v. Virginia, ___ Va. App. ___ (April 2, 2013).

At sentencing, the prosecution requested ten years incarceration on each of the two counts of unlawful wounding, thus adding five years to the statutory maximum for each count. The judge went along with that recommendation. Ms. Gordon’s defense counsel did not object. Ouch!

Fortunately, Ms. Gordon obtained a lawyer to convince Virginia’s Court of Appeals to take her appeal, convince the Court of Appeals to hear her case (Virginia has no automatic right of appeal in a criminal case), and convince the appellate court to remedy the trial court’s sentence that exceeded the statutory maximum, by ordering a resentencing.

People make mistakes. Some mistakes inflict more severe damage than others, including Ms. Gordon’s original sentence that exceeded her statutory maximum by twice on each count of unlawful wounding.

For every Latasha Gordon who ultimately get relief from such a glaring error, how many more criminal defendants suffer from serious judicial errors without those errors ever getting remedied?