7th Circuit finds cop’s sentence ‘light,’ orders resentencing

January 28, 2016

A Putnam County police officer convicted of purposefully seriously injuring two people while arresting them will be resentenced after the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals found his 14-month sentence to be “light” in comparison to similar cases.

Terry Joe Smith was convicted of violating 18 U.S.C. Section 242 by depriving two people of their constitutional right to not be subjected to intentional use of unreasonable and excessive force. In September 2012, Smith punched a man in the face who was under police control. Other officers testified the punch was so hard it sounded like a tomato hitting a concrete wall. The man was taken to the hospital and Smith was overheard bragging about breaking his nose.

Months later while responding to a domestic violence dispute, Smith picked up a handcuffed man, dropped him and drove his knee into the man’s back or sternum so hard it caused the man to defecate. He later bragged to an officer that it wasn’t the first time he had made someone defecate himself.

When sentencing Smith, Judge William Lawrence recounted cases in which defendants had been sentenced for crimes comparable to Smith’s, yet the officers in those cases received much longer sentences. Smith received a 14-month prison sentence with two years of supervised release.

He appealed his conviction, but the 7th Circuit affirmed. The government appealed his sentence, which the appeals court vacated.

Judge Richard Posner, when referring to the sentences handed down in the other cases – some of which were as high as 208 months – questioned whether Smith’s crimes were so slight a fraction of the other crimes.

“In short, does the judge’s review of these cases provide any basis for thinking 14 months a proper sentence for Smith?  Apart from the judge’s reference to anger management and comments on Smith’s minor good works in the community, no reason for the light sentence he imposed can be found in the transcript of the sentencing hearing,” Posner wrote. Smith also has been convicted of misdemeanor battery on a child and accused of assaulting two juveniles when he worked as a corrections officer.

“We add that the judge imposed the standard conditions of supervised release without stating them in the sentencing hearing. That was error too; the entire sentence must be given orally,” Posner wrote in remanding the case for full resentencing.

The case is United States of America v. Terry Joe Smith, 14-3744, 14-3721.


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