Did you hear about the case in San Bernardino in June in which an eighteen-year-old mother was given straight probation with no time in custody after killing her newborn baby? The defendant, Carmen Uribe, took a pair of scissors and stabbed her baby in the chest while sitting in the bathtub of her home.
In this case, Ms. Uribe was convicted of second degree murder, along with assault on a child resulting in death. Unfortunately, the law permits a judge only two options. One is to sentence the convicted individual to life in prison; the other alternative is straight probation.
Ms. Uribe’s parents are devoutly Catholic, and she kept her pregnancy secret from them. She did allegedly, however, tell police officers that one of the reasons she killed the baby was so that it wouldn’t mess up her social life.
The matter was sent out for a probation report and the probation officer recommended the life sentence, as he did not feel Ms. Uribe was remorseful. The judge in this case, James Edwards, decided, as is his right, that he did not agree with the probation report, and he wanted to go his own way. Judge Edwards has been on the bench for twenty-six years and indicated that having to decide between life in prison and straight probation was the most difficult decision of his judicial career. The Judge indicated that he viewed Ms. Uribe as quite different from the “cold-hearted sociopath that typically stands before me convicted of murder.” The Judge decided that, while he obviously did not condone Ms. Uribe’s behavior, a life sentence would take a tragic situation and just make it worse.
Interestingly, the defense had offered to have Ms. Uribe plead guilty to a reduced charge of manslaughter before the trial commenced in exchange for an eleven year sentence! The prosecution turned her down.
What seemed to impress Judge Edwards the most was Ms. Uribe’s statement to the probation officer that she would like to spend much of the rest of her life educating other similarly situated girls as to their options, if they feel like they are in a “no-way-out” situation as she viewed her own.
I think that the fault here lies with the lawmakers in Sacramento. A Judge must be given a number of alternatives in order to produce a fair and appropriate sentence. What does he do when his only choices are either life or no time in jail? The Judge doesn’t want to give either, he realizes neither sentence is appropriate, but does he err to the side of the defense, or does he err to the side of the prosecution? Does he give her no time, or does he give her life? Hopefully, this case will jump-start the legislature toward passing legislation which will give bench officers more sentencing flexibility. Had the Judge been able to give Ms. Uribe five years, or ten years, I imagine he would have done so. Putting him in a position where he has to take an all-or-nothing approach to sentencing puts the Judge in a tough spot, and it is not at all beneficial to society, either. Let’s get it going from a legislative standpoint, so the punishment can fit the crime.