South Carolina Judge Sentences Drunk Driver To Read Book Of Job

South Carolina Judge Michael Nettles has imposed a novel sentence on Cassandra Tolley, 28, for DUI. Tolley has been ordered to read and write a summary of the Old Testament book of Job. I have been an outspoken critic of such novel punishments for years (here and here). The order to read and summarize a religious book is not simply an affront to our legal system but a danger to the separation of church and state.

Tolley pleaded guilty to a drunk-driving crash that seriously injured two people. During her hearing, she mentioned that she was a Christian in addition to an account of childhood abuse. The judge sentenced her to eight years in jail followed by five years of probation and substance abuse counseling. Nettles then added the requirement that she read and summarize the Book of Job.

We have seen judges order defendants to attend mass or yoga lessons. Others seek to humiliate them by making them peel gum from the bottom of the courtroom benches or sleep in dog houses. All of these sentences represent the loss of the touchstone of a legal system: consistent and coherent sentencing. Judges assume the roles of judicial Caesars — toying with defendants who do not know if they will receive a conventional punishment or some idiosyncratic sentence for a judge. Judges appear to be increasingly mimicking faux judges from television from Judge Judy to Judge Brown. This is primarily a problem in the state courts where some elected judges openly pander to the public’s taste for humiliating or novel sentencing.

Because she consented to the sentence, there will be no appeal. Moreover, individuals can agree to such acts so long as they are not given coercive choices between jail and some humiliating acts as with the recent case of the judge ordering a girl’s hair cut in front of him.

The addition of a religious element makes this latest sentence all the more problematic but no doubt all the more popular with the public. Citizens are left not knowing what entertaining flourish a judge will place on their sentence. Indeed, many will feel as lucky as Job and exclaim: “I am escaped with the skin of my teeth.” Job, 19. 20

Judge Nettles graduated cum laude from Wofford College in 1981 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics. Michael earned his Juris Doctorate degree from the University of South Carolina in 1984. His bio says that he is “an active member of the Lake City First Baptist Church, where he serves as a Deacon, Sunday School Teacher, and member of the Foreign Missions Team.”

Source: Herald Onlineas first seen on ABA Journal

31 thoughts on “South Carolina Judge Sentences Drunk Driver To Read Book Of Job

  1. I must not Drink and Drive, I must not drink and drive, I must not drink and drive, I must not drink and drive, I must not drink and drive…only 195 more times and my punishment is done!!

  2. I doubt Mr. Nettles could have graduated, let alone cum laude, from a school focusing on anything other than liberal arts (and above the Mason-Dixon line). Obviously a big fan of Judge Judy though – he models his behaviour after hers.

  3. Lessee, we’ve had one from WVA with distinct southern accent, and now one from SC, n FLA, and Miss, and Georgia, and ????.

    Time for a regional change, or are the stats so, or is there bias anywhere—not JT’s but the sources.

    Heaven forbid defending such village pump stump sentencing.

    But aren’t there any quaint figures in Rhode Island?

  4. Perhaps the Judge has cast himself into the role of Elihu (the figure in Job who acted as a transition between Job’s friends and the Lord).

    Whatever the case may be, this secular Judge is trying far too hard to appear to be in touch with “God’s Justice” which is what the Book of Job is all about.

    In doing so he reveals not only a failure to grasp the ethical responsibilities of his job but also a deep misunderstanding of the Book of Job.

  5. Besides the inappropriate idiocy of the sentencing, there is also the fact that The Book of Job is one of the most puzzling in the bible. Job, a righteous, pious man is literally destroyed by God to win a bet with Satan. What moral is this Judge trying to teach?

  6. Professor Turley mentions there are fewer options for appealing these unusual punishments if the defendant agrees to the sentence. For me there are certain issues a person cannot waive. I agree a defendant may choose to waive speedy trial due to wanting to devote more time to a more formidible defense, however some issues should remain non-waivable because the subject matter is inherently coercive.

    A simple example is overtime compensation for hourly workers. Most workers here cannot waive hourly overtime. The reason for this is employees, fearing losing their jobs, will waive their rights. Statutorily preventing this waiver relieves the employee from being put into a situation where the waiver is demanded.

    Criminal Defendants are in a similar situation. When before a judge in a sentencing hearing, the defendant is actually or at least of the belief that if he or she afronted or angered the judge a tough sentence would be served on them. Even if the defendant did not want to suffer the humiliation, they will most likely agree to one out of fear. I believe they should never be put into this situation and the punishments should be standardized and not arbitrary.

  7. “Tolley’s public defendar, Amy Sikora, says her client is thankful for the assignment and has already started working on it, the story says. ”

    So she had a lawyer who didn’t object to 1st amendment violation. Or maybe she did and Tolley said never mind.

  8. sadly maybe part of the problem was she had a public defender wno may not have had time to properly advise/represent her client.
    Sometimes I hear these ‘punishments” and have liked how appropriate they were to the crime but when you take a second, third look, the prof and those here are right, it is inappropriate to go outside of sentencing guidelines.
    I wonder too if the defendant here was muslim, or other religion would this have been an issue? Would the coercive nature of no probation, jailtime even be the carrot that makes them choose it anyway?

  9. Mike S.,

    The Book of Job is particularly challenging to Christian scholars and, in my opinion, this is due to a failure to recognize historically cultural differences and also due to the challenge Hebrew presented to early translators when they sought to convey the words and motivations of the different actors in the story.

    Not only is the Judge and perhaps this public defender ignorant as to the secular appropriateness of the Judge’s assignment, they are incredibly ignorant as to the impossibility of the task they have assigned this woman.

  10. leej, I agree about public defender. My limited observation of them is that they have a very large case load. Sometimes, too, a preconceived idea that if you need a public defender, you’re guilty and don’t need an aggressive defense.

  11. Beware the Judge with no lips.

    Mespo 3: 1


    Judge looks like he was baptized in lemon juice

  12. id707,

    So far they haven’t urinated on the Establishment or the Free Exercise clause. All of their most egregious errors fall under the category of not understanding the difference between natural persons and legal fictions and trampling the other rights related to due process, freedom of speech and freedom from warrantless search and seizure. In any case, they are not supposed to derive any of their reasoning from the Bible under any circumstances, however, if they were going to get any benefit from the book, I’d think they’d do far better to pay attention to Timothy (“For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” – 1 Timothy 6:10) and Ecclesiastes (“He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loveth abundance with increase: this is also vanity.” – Ecclesiastes 5:10). Their primary problem in re legal reasoning is the God Money, not the God Jehovah/Yahweh/Allah/Shiva/etc.

  13. Gene,

    Someone here said that if corporations are persons then we should see some condemned to death, by withdrawal of corporate charter. ????

    It’s all too deep for me.

  14. Darren Smith: “Criminal Defendants are in a similar situation. When before a judge in a sentencing hearing, the defendant is actually or at least of the belief that if he or she afronted or angered the judge a tough sentence would be served on them.”


    This defendant got some bad advice or chose not to heed his lawyer’s good advise if he got it.

    This must be the start of Sharia law that everyone is so concerned with:

    “SOUTH CAROLINA: In South Carolina, Sen. Mike Fair (R) has introduced legislation to ban the implementation of Sharia law, saying there is “a need to clarify that cultural customs or foreign laws don’t trump U.S. laws.” He does admit, however, that his bill is “stating the obvious.” ”

    Maybe Sen. Fair is on to something here.

  15. Professor Turley says: “Judges assume the roles of judicial Caesars.”

    This is the primary tumor of the cancer that is destroying the fabric of our culture. The metastases are all over the public body by now, and we are in stage 4, and there is damn nothing we can do about it. Because of Caesar, and all those who render unto him/her.

    Not just because of wacko insane sentences, either. A judge who later served as a sentencing commissioner in Virginia gave knowingly unlawful sentences even for things that he knew were not crimes. What you have is what you have thrown robes on — and in many cases, everything’s a caesar that wants to be one.

  16. And here’s another one

    Poor Land in Jail as Companies Add Huge Fees for Probation
    By Ethan Bronner, The New York Times News Service | Report

    Childersburg, Alabama – Three years ago, Gina Ray, who is now 31 and unemployed, was fined $179 for speeding. She failed to show up at court (she says the ticket bore the wrong date), so her license was revoked.

    When she was next pulled over, she was, of course, driving without a license. By then her fees added up to more than $1,500. Unable to pay, she was handed over to a private probation company and jailed — charged an additional fee for each day behind bars.

    For that driving offense, Ms. Ray has been locked up three times for a total of 40 days and owes $3,170, much of it to the probation company. Her story, in hardscrabble, rural Alabama, where Krispy Kreme promises that “two can dine for $5.99,” is not about innocence.

    It is, rather, about the mushrooming of fines and fees levied by money-starved towns across the country and the for-profit businesses that administer the system. The result is that growing numbers of poor people, like Ms. Ray, are ending up jailed and in debt for minor infractions.

  17. Bettykath:

    You hit the nail right on the head with this one. That is the trend that is happening here, although the probation here is not farmed out to private enterprise it is still thankfully a state function. Alas, collection agencies are sometimes used in the case of default. Here is a little perspective.

    From some point up until around 1988(?) too many people here in WA would be issued Notices of Infraction (tickets) and either not show up for court as promised or would not pay the fine: (known as FTA’s or Failures to Appear or to Pay the Fine.) Some would have many FTA’s and one guy had 25. The department of licensing would not renew a driver’s license until all these fines were paid. But many people just racked up the FTA’s and it was a big loss of fine revenue for the state. Later, the law was amended that made it a criminal traffic offense to drive a motor vehicle while having 2 or more FTA’s on one’s license. Finally the legislature abandoned that idea and set the course in motion to just suspend the driver license in the result of 1 FTA. DOL in some cases can add another year to a suspension if one or more Driving While License Suspeded citations results in a conviction. Many people get at this point overtaken by the downward spiral of endless fines, need to drive to work, and further lengthening of the ot the suspension. Some people take years to get out of this. Many times I would somewhat cross into a gray area and tell people who had the license suspended in this manner the pitfalls of getting trapped into the fortex of FTA and Suspended 3rd’s

    I don’t know what the balance is of this since people need to get their act together and either take it to court of pay the fine. But I can tell you from a real world situation Betty this happens in too many areas.

  18. We dogs dont know nuthin bout the bible or the book written by Steve Jobs referred to in the article. We do know that after eight years in the joint the lady may not know how to read. At least she is not serving her time in State Penn where she is likely to lose her anal virginity. The photo of the judge is also of interest. This guy looks like his name should be Joe Bob. Some commenter above was beating up on JT for picking on southern states for thier peculiar judges. Keep up the work on State Penn and we can call it even. So, my pal works for IBM and he has three candidates for a position as math and science specialist first class. One is from Univeristy of South Carolina, one is from State Penn and one is from M.I.T. Which does he choose based just on the school attended? By the way, the SC guy can read and write, the Penn guy has his rear intact and the M.I.T. gal says she does not know nuthin bout birthin babies and intends to work to make IBM a better place.

  19. The dogpack was surveyed and they think that the Judge’s name is Goober. They think this is a photo of some guy from the Andy Griffth show and the photo is put on the article as a joke. Please confirm that this Judge really puts out a photo of himself for public consumption that looks like something out of the Book of Jobs.

  20. BarkinDog, I’m always surprised when I see somebody’s photo and they look like a little kid who just got bigger. It’s a very weird look.

    Ayway, I just thought of something. In the Book of Job, there’s nothing that would have any effect on the conduct of a drunk driver, is there? Am I missing something? If I remember correctly, God and Satan are in some kind of debate and they make a wager of sorts that if God mistreats Job enough, he’ll end up cursing God and he’ll switch loyalties to Satan. It’s an interesting proposition, by the way. Imagine the Republicans and the Democrats, sitting down circa 2000 and the Republicans saying, “Hey I know; if we totally ruin the economy bet me they’ll all turn around and hand the white house over to some Democrat Devil.” Oh, doesn’t work? OK, forget it.

    But anyway, so God kills off all Job’s kids, gives him boils on his tushie, and other stuff like that, and then the neighbors come in and yell at Job, “You had to have deserved all this” and “Think hard; it must be something you said” and “Your tree was leaning over my property all this time,” and stuff like that. And he still won’t curse god and turn to Satan. Or something. Isn’t that it? Where’s the drunk driver’s lessin in all THAT?

  21. There is a lesson in this. Do not drive through South Carolina. If you fly over, flush. They call folks who live just across the state line in North Carolina, Yankees.

  22. The sentence was unconstitutional. Unfortunately, that is of no consequence since it was accepted..

  23. What next? The Revelation? Or some of the totally incomprehensible sections of the Koran? The Bhagavad-Gita?

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