A Not-So “Good Catholic Fellow” Wins Appeal: Florida Court Orders New Sentencing After Judge Lectures On Catholic Values

TORRES, PERCY EDGARDOA Florida appellate court has ordered a new sentencing for Percy Edgardo Torres, 44, of Jacksonville in light of a tongue-lashing that he received from Judge Russell Healey who used his sentencing to lecture him on his violation of Catholic principles.


Healey imposed a 30-year maximum sentence after the instruction on good Catholic values on monogamy — a rather curious sticking point for a man convicted of sexual battery. Torres appears to have a few more fundamental moral issues than simply dancing and cavorting with women other than his wife. Yet, that seemed the most pressing thing on the mind of Healey in this exchange:

THE COURT: You were married, weren’t you?

TORRES: Yeah. I was married, but my wife was in my country.

THE COURT: I know that. Just because your wife is in another country doesn’t mean you ought to be going out with other women. You’re a good Catholic fellow as I am. That’s not the way Catholic people—that’s not the way anybody with morals should do anything.

TORRES: We was going out like friends. Like go out.

THE COURT: … you’re the one that said you had sex with her before this night.

TORRES: Yeah. Before this night. Yeah. We have sex.

THE COURT: But you’re married.

TORRES: Yeah. I was married.

THE COURT: That wasn’t right, was it?

TORRES: I know. Yes. It is my mistake.

[toward the end of the hearing the Court added] “You should not have been dancing together and by your own testimony you should not have had prior sexual encounters with her under any set of circumstances once you are married,” he said.

The appellate court noted that normally a sentence, even a maximum sentence, is not reviewed if within the statutory range but that an exception exists for consideration of “constitutionally impermissible factors.” The court also noted that “The minimum guidelines sentence was 9 years and 4 months imprisonment. The State did not request a specific number of years, but instead asked the trial court not to downwardly depart.”

For the court, Judge Wolf stressed:

No one should be punished, or conversely shown leniency, merely because he or she may be a member of a particular religion. Moreover, as we stated in Nawaz, “for justice to be done, it must also appear to be done.” 28 So. 3d at 125. Because the court’s comments could reasonably be construed as basing the sentence, at least in part, on religion, and because we cannot say that the sentence would have been the same without the court’s impermissible consideration of religion, we vacate appellant’s sentence and remand for resentencing before a different judge.

Notably, Judge Makar concurred to note that religious references are not barred from such sentencing hearings:

Thus, it appears that religious references by trial judges in the sentencing context—though potentially risky—are not per se impermissible; they become problematic, however, if they are used—or reasonably appear to be used—as the basis for the sentence itself. See, e.g., Nawaz, 28 So. 3d at 125. The “Constitution, of course, does not require a person to surrender his or her religious beliefs upon the assumption of judicial office,” Bakker, 925 F.2d at 741; religious references are made with caution flags aloft.

What do you think? Should a judge ever be able to discuss his or her religious beliefs as part of a sentencing with or without “caution flags aloft”?

Here is the opinion.

Healy is a former prosecutor and was appointed by Jeb Bush. He is a graduated of University of Florida law school and is a graduate of Jesuit High School. Notably, his private practice focused on family law and marital cases — an emphasis that appears to have continued as a judge.

Source: ABA Journal

26 thoughts on “A Not-So “Good Catholic Fellow” Wins Appeal: Florida Court Orders New Sentencing After Judge Lectures On Catholic Values”

  1. @Vincent Jankowski, nice try. Bigamy is defined as: the crime of marrying one person while you are still legally married to another. I think you mean to say infidelity or adultery. Adultery is defined as: the practice of sexual conduct between a married person and a person who is married to another. You can reference this account of adultery to the time of King David, which is the perfect definition of what adultery is. However, it is likely you are correct Torres is a bigamist provided he has had sex with a virgin who is unmarried to anyone, not betrothed to anyone else if you’re a stickler for the KJV.

    To the story above that Turley reported, the Catholic judge has no grounds for lecturing Torres on “Catholic morality” because the appeals judges’ opinion stated that Torres never claimed Catholicism as his faith during any part of the trial, only bothering to mention his father was Catholic; this means the judge presumed (which is dangerous by the way) that Torres is indeed Catholic. Secondly, what gives the judge the right to lecture Torres on Catholic morality? Isn’t it the issue of church and state separation important when disallowing references to morality, Biblical quotations, or regarding one’s beliefs in the court while ensuring a fair trial for everyone else?

    This is beyond ridiculous. I believe the judge should be benched, removed from his judicial office, and Torres sentencing commuted, releasing him to society at large. If the next judge decides to be so religious to impart his view to Torres, do the same thing again by releasing Torres to society at large. No judge has the power to exercise his religious beliefs upon everyone else.

    Thirdly, I believe this is the perfect example of why government should abdicate its position on marriage/divorce. Government should not regulate marriage/divorce as part of its apparatus because they have no role. Marriage and divorce are both religious appendages that have myriad of rules, set upon by many tenets of different faiths. That’s a direct violation of exercising one’s religious freedom. This means that the government who has improperly imprisoned all the polygamists in the past have indeed violated their rights while protecting the rights of the monogamists. This concludes that government should be relegated to their duties that have everything to do with improving this nation at large and nothing to do with individuals and their rights, religious or not.

    Bench this judge, remove him, and release Torres. It’s pretty much the wise thing to do because if this is happening again, do it like I recommend the previous sentence.

  2. If the sentencing judge had said that defendant’s bigamy was immoral without couching the immorality in religious terms and had smacked the defendant because of his lack of morality, citing the bigamy, I doubt the appellate court would have reversed. Because the judge bases his morality on religion, he got reversed. I see illogic there.

    Sentencing judges have wide discretion. If the sentencing judge felt it appropriate to consider the defendant’s bigamy as an aggravating factor in sentencing, he was entitled to do so. After all, if the defendant hadn’t cheated on his wife and, instead, remained at home and prayed the rosary or read the Torah or watched Pat Robertson, the crime would not have happened. I may not have reached the same conclusion, but the call was not mine to make.

    I think it was fairly clear that it was the defendant’s bigamy that was giving the judge problems, not his religion.

  3. I think that this judge is now not empowered to sentence any defendant to death even where a jury rendered that verdict. The Sixth Commandment says Thou Shalt Not Kill. There is no exception for a jury or The Great State of Florida or Texas to kill. i.e. no Y’all Can exception.

  4. I guess the judge forgot about the whole Kennedy family. They are good examples of the real Catholic morality as practiced.

  5. Some Christian denominations believe equal sins could include: supporting the Iraq War, supporting the death penalty, pre-marital sex, etc. If we are going to codify religion into actual laws or statutes shouldn’t these be included as well?

    Separation of church & state also protects people of religion (from other people of religion with a different interpretation).

  6. What if the judge were to have been a Wiccan? How would the lecture have sounded? Would it have been met with the same level of acceptance by the Catholics? I agree that we are influenced by our backgrounds, but Judges should not be allowed to throw it in the face of those they sentence as if their particular belief system is superior to any other or worse, to the law. Once again smacks of God’s law reigning over man’s law here on earth, in the USA, where there are people who may not have faith in a Devine.

  7. Catholic values or human values, infidelity is an example of oath breaking and so covered twice in the Ten Commandments.

    There’s wides swaths of humanity that don’t care what the Ten Commandments say, many of them U.S. citizens. It doesn’t matter if a particular crime also happens be in violation of some religious text or moral guideline. Judges should rule based on the law.

  8. Judges are human but have a secular job. I would expect preaching in church and cool, dispassionate reason on the bench. The two need not meet. Something I read once in a book about rendering to Caesar what is owed him, etc.

  9. “I thought the charge and conviction were ‘sexual battery’ not infidelity.”

    Good point.

  10. No, no court official should be allowed to reference their own religious beliefs, ever. Just mentioning it creates the appearance of bias against others, including Atheists, Muslims, or any of the variety of Christ-based religions or other types of religion. Should a judge be allowed to opine that a Wiccan defendant is lucky that burning at the stake is no longer a valid punishment? Or that an atheist defendant going to prison will soon have a better understanding of Hell?

    A judge (or prosecutor or bailiff or cop on the stand or child services representative) does not have freedom of speech while on the bench or in court. They are the government then, and the government is officially non-religious. If they don’t like that, they can terminate their employment with the state.

    I feel the same about politicians, I am offended and degraded every time one of them invokes God. They don’t represent ME when they do that, they represent and defend and promote hatred and distrust toward me.

  11. Hmmmmm…… Would have been ok if he had sex with a priest…… Nah…. He’s too old…..

  12. As long as the judge does not sprinkle the convicted with holy water or cast the demons out of them, “caution flags aloft” are at half mast in rite wing Florida.

  13. ” If a judge wants to give the maximum allowed by law for breaking a marital vow that is within his power.”

    I thought the charge and conviction were ‘sexual battery’ not infidelity.

    What next, maximum sentence for being gluttonous, slothful or coveting his neighbors wife.

    Why should a judge have the power to sentence on the basis of a moral value that is not charged and where there is no conviction?

  14. Do we need better training for judges and to stop electing judges – minimizing politics so we have qualified judges that are real guardians of the Constitution, instead of politicians or clergy?

  15. By making these remarks, the sentence becomes suspect. Would it have been exactly the same had the judge not said anything about religion, or have even been agnostic or atheist? No one knows, but by dint of the fact he preached a kind of sermon, literally, from the Bench creates the impression of bias. Justice is supposed to be blind.

    If the judge had lectured him on almost anything else, such as being a responsible spouse or how to treat a lady with respect, he could have gotten away with it. Those are human values, and no one church or religion has a patent on them.

  16. The “Constitution, of course, does not require a person to surrender his or her religious beliefs upon the assumption of judicial office,”

    “Tis but a mere truism, not based or principle but reality — such a requirement would be ineffective. You are what you are, making it incumbent upon a judge to be aware of his bias and keep it in check. Apparently this is an impossibility with Judge Healy.

    Judge Healy should be sanctioned if not removed from office

  17. The judge can shove his values. All he should be concerned with is the appropriate application of the law.

  18. A judge not being judicious, I’m shocked. I imagine there could be an instance when discussing a religious value could be appropriate since laws do coincide w/ religious values. This was not one of those instances.

  19. Catholic values or human values, infidelity is an example of oath breaking and so covered twice in the Ten Commandments.. If a judge wants to give the maximum allowed by law for breaking a marital vow that is within his power. However preaching from the bench is not. Sanction the judge for that and leave the sentence in place.

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