Judge Robert Adrian’s Farcical Self-Reversal

It was a bench trial, and the Judge found the defendant guilty. It was, at that point, entirely in the hands of Adams County, Illinois, Circuit Judge Robert Adrian to decide whether the prosecution met its burden, and he did. Guilty of sexual assault.

Mr. Clinton was charged with criminal sexual assault on June 1, 2021. The girl reported that he sexually assaulted her after she became intoxicated at a party on May 30, according to court records.

During the bench trial, she testified that she was unconscious and woke up to find a pillow covering her face and Mr. Clinton assaulting her.

“She at no time gave consent,” Anita M. Rodriguez, the assistant state’s attorney who prosecuted the case, said during Mr. Clinton’s sentencing hearing on Jan. 3, according to a transcript. “In fact, earlier in the evening, she had specifically indicated that she did not want any sexual contact with this defendant.”

If the victim was unconscious, then she was incapacitated and incapable of consent. While consent can be given drunk, it cannot be given when incapacitated. Whether the facts are as she alleged was left to the finder of fact, in this case the judge, and he made his finding. Guilty.

But then came sentence.

Mr. Schnack argued that mandatory sentences take away a judge’s discretion.

“Every individual should be judged by the court in doing its sentence and not by a legislator years and hundreds of miles removed,” he said, according to the transcript.

There’s merit to the argument, but it’s not an argument to be made to a judge, whose authority is constrained by the laws, including mandatory sentencing laws, enacted by a legislature.

He also said that prosecutors had not proved their case against Mr. Clinton and that the girl was able to consent. Mr. Schnack said that she made many decisions that night, including drinking and stripping down to her underwear to go swimming.

“They weren’t the best decisions,” he said. “She did know what was going on.”

No doubt these were poor choices, but these decisions had no bearing on the question of whether the case was proven. Had she stripped naked, that still wouldn’t constitute a defense to sexual assault or rape. There is no “she asked for it” defense. But there other, mitigating factors, that the judge considered. And then there was the bottom line question, whether the mandatory sentence was justifiable.

Judge Adrian said he knew that, by law, Mr. Clinton was supposed to serve time in prison, but in this case, the sentence was unfair, partly because Mr. Clinton turned 18 just two weeks before the party and, until his arrest, had no criminal record.

“That is not just,” Judge Adrian said during the Jan. 3 hearing, according to the transcript. “There is no way for what happened in this case that this teenager should go to the Department of Corrections. I will not do that.”

It’s hardly novel that a judge finds mandatory sentencing laws too inflexible, too harsh, to properly apply under the circumstances of a case. Some  judges, like Kevin Sharp, walked off the bench rather than sentence defendants to terms of imprisonment he found improper. Others, like Jack Weinstein, decided to just ignore the law and do what he thought was right, leaving it to the government and appellate court to do the dirty work he refused to do. But Judge Adrian took a different tack.

He said that if he ruled that the sentence was unconstitutional, his decision would be reversed on appeal. Instead, he said, what he could do was “find that the people failed to prove their case.”

And so, after having ruled at the conclusion of the bench trial, that the defendant was guilty, the judge reversed his verdict and found the defendant not guilty, mouthing the words of acquittal to avoid the duty of sentencing the defendant to a mandatory term of imprisonment of four years. Notably, the defendant has spent five months in custody, and the judge called that “plenty of punishment.”

But the judge had stern words for the parents who created the scenario where this crime occurred.

Judge Adrian chastised the parents and other adults who he said provided liquor to the teenagers at the party and failed “to exercise their parental responsibilities.”

This is what happens, he said, “when we have people, adults, having parties for teenagers, and they allow coeds and female people to swim in their underwear in their swimming pool.”

“And, no,” the judge added, “underwear is not the same as swimming suits.”

While there is certainly justification to blame the adults who enabled this conduct to occur, does it diminish the fact that a young man sexually assaulted an incapacitated woman? The mitigating factors are certainly valid, but the scope of the court’s duty was to apply the law, even stupid law, as determined by the lege. Refusing to do so, the judge sought to circumvent the law, and the constraints on his authority, by gaming the verdict.

Just as activist jurors raise troubling issues of integrity at trial, a judge reversing his bench trial verdict not because of the facts, but because he refuses to apply the law as enacted, raises even worse questions of integrity.

“He made me seem like I fought for nothing and that I put my word out there for no reason,” [the 16-year-old victim] told WGEM-TV. “I immediately had to leave the courtroom and go to the bathroom. I was crying.”

Judge Adrian could have imposed the statutorily required sentence, with an opinion condemning it as excessive and improper and imploring the legislature to change the law and the governor to pardon the defendant. Judge Adrian could have imposed the sentence he thought proper and left it to the appellate court to reverse his unauthorized sentence. Judge Adrian could have found the law unconstitutional as applied and suffered a stinging appellate reversal.

What Judge Adrian could not do is sacrifice the integrity of the trial because he disagreed with the mandatory sentence. If the crime was proven beyond a reasonable doubt, doing so was no act of sentencing bravery, but an act that turned the trial into a farce.

18 thoughts on “Judge Robert Adrian’s Farcical Self-Reversal

    1. Paleo

      This guy deserves the outrage mob. He agrees a rape occurred but doesn’t punish the rapist.

      And the parents that supplied the alcohol and let this crap happen deserve to be vigorously sued by the 16 year old. Parents who wand to be their children’s friend – before they are adults anyway – are worse than helicopter parents.

        1. Durasim

          Banished to the civil bench? Not all judges consider that punishment. Lots of judges want to be transferred to civil or probate because they can take it easy with lower stakes stuff as opposed to the higher stress criminal division.

            1. Durasim

              Woe is him! Keeping his judgeship and full salary while having to listen to quieter cases with lower stakes and less stress. Such a cross for one to bear.

          1. David

            As if your puny-minded comment below wasn’t bad enough, here you take a dive down the rabbit hole. One of the things that makes SJ worth reading to lawyers is that it didn’t get weighed down with sophomoric tangential nonsense like this.

  1. SamS

    This judge represent a bad trend in this country; people who will not stay in their lane. We have judges wanting to be legislators, senators who want to president, journalists who want to be philosopher kings. We would all be better off if we just did our own jobs the best we can each day.

  2. Durasim

    He’s no longer hearing criminal cases as of now.

    An administrative order filed Thursday by Judge Frank McCartney, chief judge of the Eighth Judicial Circuit, assigned Judge Robert Adrian to small claims, legal matters and probate dockets, as well as other civil cases as assigned effective immediately.

    Adrian’s criminal court docket was assigned to Judge Scott Larson until further notice. Larson also was assigned to hear emergency orders of protection on Tuesdays.

    McCartney also ordered several cases Adrian was presiding over be transferred to different judges in the circuit. If a case moves to jury trial, McCartney ordered that all judges other than Adrian are assigned to hear the case as it appears on the jury calendar.

    1. David

      Is this post really about the particular consequences were imposed on Judge Adrian, or is that the sort of concrete details that small minds latch onto when they fail to grasp the deeper issue raised by the post?

      In the old days, SHG might give you a gentle smack for posting a comment like this as it’s more reddit worthy than SJ worthy. Just because he’s chosen to let people embarrass themselves with their shallow comments doesn’t mean you have to.

  3. louctiel

    As a bit of a follow-up, Judge Adrian removed an attorney from his courtroom because the attorney’s wife “liked” a post attacking the judge over the sexual assault case:

    QUINCY — An attorney was kicked out of an Adams County courtroom Wednesday, after a judge said that he couldn’t be “fair” with him.

    Judge Robert Adrian told Josh Jones, lead trial attorney for the Adams County state’s attorney’s office, that his wife saw Jones had liked a Facebook comment that attacked him.

    “I can’t be fair with you. Get out,” Adrian said.

    Adrian has faced backlash after comments he made in a sexual assault case last week.

    Jones who left the courtroom was appearing in the Natasha L. McBride case. McBride is charged in connection with a 2020 crash that killed four people.

    Adrian has been removed from hearing criminal trials:

    QUINCY (WGEM) – Chief Judge of the 8th Judicial Circuit Frank McCartney filed an administrative order with the Adams County Circuit removing embattled Judge Robert Adrian from handling criminal cases.

    The order reassigns Adrian to hear small claims, probate, civil cases and other legal matters.

  4. F. Lee Billy

    Neither the first nor the last time a courtroom procedure was/has been [deemed] a Farce. It’s a description we use frequently at BB Headquarters. It’s not a a description we recall you using in these, or similar, circumstances.

    Are you doubling down on previously held opinions, or have you seen the Light at long last? Inquiring Minds demand answers!

    1. F. Lee Billy

      You have a mind like a steel trap there, Dave. What makes you think probate, civil, family and other legal matters are so easy? Just askin’! One man’s easy is another man’s sleazy.

      IAMNAL or a judge for very good reasons. Am afraid of screwing up and wrecking some poor schmuck ‘s lifestyle. This is supposed to be a free country. Free for whom?

      1. Paleo

        I don’t know about the others, but family sucks. I was on a jury once for a custody dispute, and it was awful. Having to sit and watch the couple publicly dump all of each other’s dirt was depressing. And deciding the future of someone else’s child was unpleasant.

        I’ve also been on a criminal jury – and during the sentencing phase I was basically like Henry Fonda in 12 angry men. Mr Mercy, and my fellow jurors were really displeased that I wouldn’t go along with burying the guy under the prison so we could all go home. But I’d do that 10 times again before I’d do another family case.

        1. David Landers

          Hello Paleo,

          The constitution of a man differs from man to man. Respectable that you may be there might be another who finds virtue, a Henry Fonda incarnation, in family court.

          Each case is different. Every case is always different.

        2. F. Lee Billy

          I really really appreciate your response, Paleo. I have a jury experience very similar to yours here on Capo Bacala. I was the lone holdout in a totally bogus DUI trial. I announced my verdict in the first five minutes and refused to budge for three painful hours.

          The other woke juors, all liberal college educated, were dumb as dirt. I tortured them! Mistrial! I saved some poor guy. How often does that happen? He can thank me and my mentor Scott Fitgerald here, our hostess with the mostess.

          Didn’t even have to show up, cause I’m over 65. However, as long as I can walk and chew gum without assistance,…

          There’s a whole lot more, but that’s enough for now. Arrive Derci Roma.

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