Good Lord: Judge Rejects Plea As Too Lenient, Jury Then Acquits Defendant

In Laconia, New Hampshire there is an interesting case that may give some of our clients pause before accepting a plea bargain. Jonathan E. Lord, 25, had accepted a plea bargain to spend one year in jail for trying to run over Police officer Michael Finogle. However, Judge James O’Neill III rejected the plea (because he felt the plea was too lenient) so the case went to trial . . . and Lord was acquitted of one felony charge of reckless conduct and two misdemeanor charges of disobeying an officer and reckless operation.

Finogle was on foot patrol in the parking lot when he said Lord drove a car “at a rate of speed and manner as to narrowly miss” him.

The jury appeared to accept the defense’s contention that Lord was not the man in the car. One juror is quoted as saying “the guy (Lord) took his shirt off and he had a million tattoos. There was no mention by the cops that he had all these tattoos, even though it was a well-lit area.”

While most judges go along with agreements between prosecutors and defense counsel, O’Neill has a record of rejecting plea agreements (here).

Source: Lacnida Daily Sun as found on Reddit.

30 thoughts on “Good Lord: Judge Rejects Plea As Too Lenient, Jury Then Acquits Defendant”

  1. I totally agree with the judge in this case. Yes, the guy had tattoos, but they were covered by his shirt which makes it a moot point. The last thing I would notice is someone’s tattoos if they were trying to run over me. I, personally went back over this judge’s cases (quite a few…for curiosity’s sake) to check cases where he didn’t accept plea bargains and have to say I agreed with him. The point this judge is trying to make, ( IMO) is that the punishment should fit the crime.

  2. Public Defender brings up some good points, especially if this is an elected jugde. Gotta avoid the too soft on crime rap. Also, hiding behind a jury, especially one that brings back a not guilty verdict (and thus no appeal), has little political downside.

  3. Public Defender:

    Your first sentence was correct. Judges injecting themselves into plea negotiations presumes they know all the facts and considerations that went into the negotiation. Obviously this judge didn’t and it showed. It is akin to letting the umpire from last night make the call on today’s game deciding play at the plate. Sure he knows the rules but he wasn’t there; couldn’t know the context; and should let those folks in the best position to decide make the call.

  4. Public Defender,

    Thank you for that additional info … those of us who aren’t lawyers always appreciate the explanations and insights.

  5. Tony C.,

    Are you able to talk about the subject matter … if so, I would be interested in reading about it.

  6. As a criminal defense lawyer, I hate it when judges inject themselves into the plea negotiation process. However, in this case, it actually makes some sense. The judge was not necessarily “presuming” guilt; he was confronted by a person pleading guilty. His decision was then based on whether a 1 year sentence was appropriate for the crime to which the guy was pleading. I rational judge (which this may or may not have been) could very well have said, “I don’t want it to get around that trying to run down a police officer is worthy of a 1-year sentence.” If that was the case, then an acquittal was not inconsistent with that decision because a jury then decided that the person was not guilty for that offense. The judge can now maintain his position that anyone who DOES commit that offense will get a more serious penalty.

  7. Tony C.

    Ditto to what you said.

    The US has committed itself to more law and order than it can afford and to prevent system overload has compensated by introducing in the corrupt and discriminatory system of plea bargains. In my view their should be a limit on the sentence discount allowed to no more than 20%. People who are factually innocent in the narrow and technical sense that they did not perform the actions of the crime or in that the crime never actually happened should not be coerced into pleading guilty by the knowledge that refusing the plea will almost certainly result in conviction and a whacking sentence because judges and juries do not implement the “presumption of innocence” for Blacks and poor people.

    If the result of all defendants electing to go to trial is that the system grinds to a halt, then that would be just punishment on the righteous majority for making more laws than the nation can afford.

    This article at Friend of Justice on discusses how publication bias incorporating a presumption of guilt strips minority accused of any realistic chance of acquittal at trial.

  8. @Blouise: Grrrrr…. 🙂

    Actually nobody can tell me what to do, and I can’t tell anybody else what to do. It is more like a small group of friends working on a collective project within a department. But our project has been kicking some world class ass the last few years, we have worked really well together.

  9. AY:

    “New Hampshire….the outer reaches of Virginia….But which came first….”


    I have it on good authority that “outer reaches” predates New Hampshire.

  10. Tony C.,

    I bet that university research department is sitting up straighter … 😉

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