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. 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.”
    —-

    Right.

    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.

    http://thinkprogress.org/politics/2011/02/08/142590/sharia-states/?mobile=nc

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. Beware the Judge with no lips.

    Mespo 3: 1

    *********************************

    Judge looks like he was baptized in lemon juice

  5. I sentence Judge Michael Nettles to re-read the Constitution until he understands it.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  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. “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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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?

  12. 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.

  13. 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?

  14. 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.

  15. 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!!

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