Yesterday Judge Eric Strawn said he will not put Trace O’Connell behind bars for allegedly throwing beer and insults at American Indian children at a Rapid City Rush hockey game last January:
“I will not consider actual internment, but a fine,” Strawn told the attorneys. He based his decision on a review of the case file and O’Connell’s lack of a criminal history. The judge’s decision removes the option of a jury trial which means Strawn will hear the evidence and rule on whether O’Connell is guilty” [Andrea J. Cook, “Judge Takes Jail Time off the Table for Philip Man,” Rapid City Journal, 2015.05.28].
Disorderly conduct, even for first offense, is a Class 2 misdemeanor, for which the maximum punishment is 30 days in the county jail and a $500 fine. Without hearing the arguments or witnesses from either side, the judge has decided O’Connell’s alleged actions do not warrant a legally authorized punishment.
I don’t spend much time in court, but I’m surprised that a judge can make what seems like a notably prejudicial ruling. There’s no jury to prejudice, but tipping his hand on punishment before the trial could make witnesses for the prosecution feel they cannot get a fair hearing from the judge. Did Judge Strawn need to make a declaration that essentially says O’Connell’s alleged crime wasn’t that bad?
Judge Strawn also ordered the case moved from the courthouse to the main theater at the Rapid City Performing Arts Center to accommodate witnesses (think 57 kids from American Horse School) and spectators.