Editorial: Dawe’s sentence raises questions; let’s look for specific answers
John Dawe’s conviction last week for child pornography and engaging in sex with a teenager has left many in the community wondering if justice has really been served. This left some people in this newsroom – people with a better than average understanding of the courts and the criminal justice system – wondering if justice had really been served.
Our commentators, as they so often do, have gone to extremes. They have torn apart the judge and the justice. They made unsubstantiated claims that Dawe received preferential treatment. They suggested that real justice would be served by horrific methods of execution. Such lopsided comments make us grateful that we remain a country ruled by the rule of law and not by the rule of the bloodthirsty mob.
Yet a troubling question remained: When other defendants are arrested and sent to state prison for soliciting sex with undercover cops posing as teenagers, but never touching anyone, how come That Dawe could engage in sex acts with a living, breathing teenage boy and facing the prospect of being released from county jail in a few weeks, thanks to time spent in jail? It seemed light, especially since Dawe had a criminal background.
We asked longtime court reporter Ed Lewis, who covered the conviction, to follow up. His story appears on the front page of today’s edition. Lewis’s report revealed that while Dawe’s sentence was within the standard range, some members of the criminal justice system also expressed surprise. Her story also points out that the punishment was the result of several factors, some of which helped lessen the punishment Dawe suffered.
Judges can’t comment on cases, so obviously we couldn’t go back to Lucerne County President Judge Michael T. Vough and ask him why he sentenced Dawe the way he did. His remarks during the hearing are quoted in the article. We would be quick to note that Lewis and others in our newsroom are very familiar with Justice Vough and his work. We have observed him tough but fair, cautious in his deliberations and clear in his explanations, and mindful of the need to balance the rights of victims, protection of the community and the imposition of appropriate penalties in his application of the law. .
Lewis has reviewed the court records of 11 men convicted of soliciting minors for sexual purposes. He found no pattern of disparity: six were sentenced to state prison while the sentences for five men were designed to allow them to stay in the county correctional facility. Everyone was required to register as a sex offender, as required by state law. Each sentence reflected the distinct factors in each case.
Lewis also spoke with three defense attorneys who practice in the county, who admitted to being taken aback by what they thought was a light sentence for Dawe. We’ve extended anonymity to them for the story as they frequently appear in front of Vough. However, they were balanced in their remarks, explaining that the length of a sentence depends on the classification of the charge to which an accused has pleaded guilty, acceptance of responsibility, openness to rehabilitation and counseling, and the accused’s criminal history.
As Vough noted, Dawe had a history of community service and had attended six weeks of treatment at a sex offender treatment center.
“This individual has shown extraordinary acceptance of his responsibilities,” said Dawe’s attorney, Jonathan Blum, asking for a sentence that would allow him to remain in the county correctional facility.
âBut you still have to be punished,â Vough said of the sentence to keep Dawe in the county jail.
There was another potentially important mitigating factor in Dawe’s case, and it was one over which the judge had no control. District Attorney Sam Sanguedolce told Lewis he was surprised Dawe had not been considered a violent sexual predator by the state’s Sex Offender Assessment Board, given that he had solicited genital photos of what he believed to be a 15-year-old boy and had in fact engaged in sexual activity with a 16-year-old boy. If Dawe had been viewed as a predator, Sanguedolce believes Vough would have imposed a harsher sentence.
The question of who and how is considered a violent sexual predator is a question that we plan to examine in more detail soon, and we have not been able to fully explore this question for today’s story. ‘hui.
To the community: From what we learned and observed, Vough’s decision was within reach, no matter how we as individuals felt about it.
If we are to see tougher sentences imposed in such cases, we must discuss them with lawmakers in Harrisburg.
– Time manager