When Does the Job Define the Action? A Judge Shows Concern Outweighs Punishment

A North Carolina judge who sentenced a veteran to 24 hours in jail for a probation violation was worried how the time alone would affect the defendant's post-traumatic stress disorder. So the judge served the time with him.

From the outside, you might think this is a grandstanding "look at me" gesture on the judge's part. But when the whole story given, another view is taken away. Judge Lou Olivera is a Gulf War veteran who presides over Veterans court in Cumberland County, North Carolina. He sees first-hand the trauma and failures the veterans in the area are having and when their failings get them into trouble. Having served in the Gulf War, Olivera is no stranger to the adjustments that must be made when serving veterans now have to adapt back into a non-military life.

Joseph Serna, a former Special Forces Green Beret sergeant who served in Afghanistan, had been charged with driving while intoxicated. He was sentenced to the 24-hour jail stint after admitting to Judge Olivera that he didn't tell the truth about his latest urinalysis test. Olivera saw Serna trembling when he turned himself in to serve the sentence, and that's when Olivera decided to serve the time with him.

Olivera's graciousness and empathy are certainly compelling. Should a judge take that extra step to help a fellow man, instead of just dealing punishment? For this judge, it seems that both outcomes could be beneficial.

"I thought about a story that I once read," Olivera told the Observer. "It talked about a soldier with PTSD in a hole. ... A family member, a therapist and a friend all throw down a rope to help the veteran suffering. Finally, a fellow veteran climbs into the hole with him. The soldier suffering with PTSD asks, 'Why are you down here?' The fellow veteran replied, 'I am here to climb out with you.'"

At Carlson & Burnett, we have attorneys that understand that protecting the interests and rights of individuals, families and children is important and they have a passion to obtain the best results achievable for our clients. Peg Stevens handles a variety of juvenile and criminal cases ranging from misdemeanors to felonies and works to protect the legal rights of families and children impacted by domestic abuse and child abuse. If you have a legal matter that you need help with, contact call Peg for a free consultation to learn how to she can help you resolve your legal problems. Call (402) 403-4133.

Ref: "Concerned about veteran with PTSD, judge orders him to jail and serves the time with him", by Debra Cassens Weiss, ABA Journal, 4/22/16

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