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.