One of the most stressful things for trial attorneys is the unpredictability of judges. One of the most stressful things for judges is the unpredictable trial attorneys and their clients.
Although almost all of my courtroom articles are from my personal experience there is one New York judge, whose unpredictable sentencing hearing, is one of my all-time favorite court “war stories.”
Here is the verbatim news account from a local New York City newspaper article from August 1976:
“A new twist in ‘police brutality’ took place in Manhattan yesterday immediately after a defendant, Willie Smith, was pronounced guilty of extortion, mugging, assault, resisting arrest, and counterfeiting food stamps.
“The presiding Judge, Nathan O. Cohen, then addressed Mr. Smith in this manner.
“Mr. Smith, you have been found guilty by this court of several vicious crimes against the people of the state of New York, especially the heinous crime of mugging an assaulting a 94-year old woman in a wheel chair. And then having the audacity to sell her dope to ease her pain. And throughout this trial your constant harassment of this court with charges of police brutality, which I have reason to suspect are unfounded, have irritated me to no end.
“Whereupon, Judge Cohen left the bench, stepped in front of it, walked up to the defendant Willie Smith and punched him in the nose.
“Then, in a matter of seconds, before a shocked courtroom, the judge punched, kicked, and pummeled Smith. The judge returned to his bench before two stunned deputies could regain their senses long enough to pick Willie up off the floor.
“When they finally did get him to his feet, without Willie’s help, and who was now looking like a Raggedy Ann doll with its stuffing coming out, Judge Cohen addressed Willie Smith again.
“That, Mr. Smith, is a sample of real, honest-to-goodness brutality. If that’s what the police did to you, then I suggest having a retrial on those grounds, and I’m on your side. But if that’s not what the police did to you, then go serve your sentence like a good criminal should. Take him away!”
I never did find out what happened to Judge Cohen. He obviously needed a long vacation and/or some mental health care. Or, he probably just retired.
I must confess, there are times when I have felt like pummeling someone in my courtroom with my gavel. But so far, I have restrained myself.
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One thought on “Judge Physically Attacks the Defendant in Court”
I remember a murder trial where, I believe, two males and a female who were guilty of casually killing a teenaged drug informant were found guilty. The murder victim’s girlfriend was present at time of the killing and miraculously escaped and later testified. During the trial, the female murder defendant taunted taunted the mother of the dead boy, saying, “You signed the paper!!” (Meaning the parental authorization for her son to act as an informant.) THAT is what would make me want to assault a defendant.