Here's one reason so many people have lost faith in the system.
Judicial absurdity like this: Two former Kern County sheriff's deputies who conspired to sell drugs they stole from evidence lockers will do no prison time. None.
U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence O'Neill sentenced Logan August and Derrick Penney to just three years' probation, community service and forfeiture of illegal profits Monday for conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute marijuana. Federal prosecutors might well have thrown in felony betrayal of the public trust, too, were such a law on the books.
What might the sentence have been for an ordinary citizen who snuck into the Sheriff's evidence room on 10 separate occasions over nine months, stole marijuana plants harvested during eradication operations, trimmed and bundled the illicit harvest and sold it on the streets, as August confessed to doing? Not three years' probation, we'll wager.
The U.S. Attorney's Office, which prosecuted the case, had recommended nine months in prison for August and probation for Penney, whose role was less egregious — sentences that themselves would strike some as generous.
Law enforcement officers who exploit the public's confidence, sully the name of their agency and profit from it all deserve harsher sentences, not lighter ones, because the faith they strive to engender elevates their responsibility.
Instead, we have a judge who is apparently impressed with the dedication of the fallen deputies’ wives — so much so he sends their husbands back out into society with dunce caps instead of shackles.
"Being the wife of a law enforcement officer is not easy," the judge told Tiffany August and Callie Penney after asking both women to stand.
"Being the wife of a fallen law enforcement officer is even more difficult."
O'Neill then acknowledged that the wives had taken "the brunt" of the suffering their husbands had caused their families. "The two of you have been incredible not to have gotten into the U-Haul and taken off," he said. "The both of you should be proud."
We're impressed with the wives' dedication, too. So what?
Most ordinary defendants facing the possibility of prison time can also count loved ones among the collateral damage they've caused: wives, girlfriends, children or mothers who have suffered through the ordeal of criminality, capture and trial. Is it reasonable for a judge to consider the consequences they face as a result of the family crooks' incarceration? Certainly, in some cases. But outright freedom? Rarely, exceedingly.
Instead the convicted former deputies will face probation and community service. Penney, who has since moved to Idaho, will presumably perform his 250 hours of community service there, so Kern County will not even benefit from the repayment of his debt to this community.
Too many good cops work too hard for the rare bad ones to get off with a wrist slap for this sort of criminal betrayal. We expect much of our law enforcement professionals — maybe too much sometimes — and we must be able to trust them accordingly.