After FHP Trooper James Gilbert's sentencing on April 22, 2010 before Judge Marc Lubet, CourtWatch spent considerable time going through our records and developing a comparison of similar cases for analysis.
Having monitored hundreds, if not thousands, of pleas & sentencing hearings, we were surprised at the severity of the sentence for this defendant who never physically touched his victim, even though he scored over 10 years in prison.
When evaluating cases, there are numerous factors that must be taken into consideration. They typically include severity of the offense, its impact upon the victim, whether or not the victim is cooperative with the prosecution (if the State can't make its case without victim testimony, and the victim refuses to testify, the charge is often reduced or dropped), the availability of other evidence, the defendant's age, history of substance abuse, mental issues and previous crimes committed.
Each case is unique in its circumstances, thus making comparisons an exercise in trying to equate apples to oranges.
In this particular case, Gilbert pled to the bench, which means there was no prior agreement with the State Attorney as to what the sentence would be. The initial offer of no jail time + 18 months sex offender probation was rejected by the defendant in the early stages of this case. As it progressed through several defense motions, the prosecution's offer got tougher and was ultimately withdrawn.
It appeared as though both sides dug in their heels and could find no common ground for an agreement.
Of the 45 cases we examined, only 4 went to a jury trial. Two were pleas to the Bench (including Gilbert's) and the rest were agreed upon sentences between the State and defendant. It's important to realize that only when there's a plea to the bench or a trial, does the judge determine a sentence. When there is an agreed upon resolution, it's because the State Attorney and Counsel for the defendant have negotiated one.
It's always difficult to be a Monday morning quarterback when watching what transpires in the courtroom. We are not privvy to much of the information that the Court, State and Defense have. I do know that this defendant's behavior caused the 17-year old victim and her family to become estranged from one another. CourtWatch cannot begin to put a "price" on what the victim in this case has endured. It's impossible to undo the damage to her and her family.
Click here for the background info.
In addition to his sentence of 18 months in prison + 8 years sex offender probation, the Mr. Gilbert was terminated from his 17-year career with the Florida Highway Patrol as a result of his crime.
CourtWatch collected sentencing data about cases in which defendants were charged with the same crime as Gilbert was (most of which had fewer than 10 counts) and compared it to cases where the defendants were charged with Sexual Activity With a 16-17 Year Old. The sentences were converted from months or years into days so that we could more easily compare them. They range from no jail time to 15 years in the Department of Corrections.
We find it interesting that nearly half (12 out of 23) defendants who had actual physical contact with their victims were sentenced to less prison/jail time than Gilbert was. Eleven of those defendants got away without being required to register as a sex offender.
Only one defendant who pled to similar charges as Gilbert got more incarceration time than he did.
This sheet shows cases sorted by amount of time incarcerated.
This sheet shows cases sorted by total time supervised (incarceration + community control + probation).
Finally, in the majority of all types of criminal cases, first time offenders have adjudication withheld when they are sentenced. Essentially, this means that if they successfully complete all the conditions of their probation, they are not considered to be a convicted felon.
Why did this not happen for Mr. Gilbert? While we're at it, we ask the same question about Casey Anthony when she pled to the theft, forgery and uttering charges (2008-CF-013331-A-O) in January and was adjudicated guilty (although she certainly has more serious charges to deal with).
CourtWatch prefers to not open the "Casey" can of worms - there are plenty of other bloggers out there talking about her.
Was Gilbert's sentence too harsh? Or too lenient? We'd love to hear from you.