Ethics Observations On The Latrez Cummings Sentence

"I understand, son. We've all been at that awkward, "just want to beat the old white guy to death" age...."

“I understand, son. We’ve all been at that awkward, “just want to beat the old white guy to death” age….”

Detroit Third Judicial Circuit Judge James Callahan sentenced 19-year-old gang member Latrez Cummings to six months in jail for his participation in the mob beating of Steve Utash, a 54-year-old white man who jumped out of his car to assist a 10-year-old African-American boy after his pick-up truck hit the child. Cummings and at least 20 others on the scene attacked Utash and beat him severely, leaving him with permanent brain damage.

Judge Callahan told Cummings that the lack of a father was what led him to his current plight. “That’s all you have needed in your life, a father, someone to discipline you, someone to beat the hell out of you when you made a mistake,” Callahan lectured Cummings. “Without the guidance of a father, being 19 years of age, I can understand how some of these problems existed in the past.” The judge added that Cummings has suffered without “somebody to beat the hell out of you when you made a mistake.”  With the further rationalization, “We’ve all been 19 years of age, ” Callahan handed down the six month sentence, to be followed by probation.

The prosecutor, to her credit, went nuts. Said Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Lisa Lindsey:

“That is no excuse, judge, that is setting a low bar. There are plenty of young black males who live in the city of Detroit who are raised by single mothers who do not, I repeat, do not engage in criminal activity. There are plenty of young black males who did not have a father who live in the city of Detroit who do not come into court and lie to a judge. There are plenty of young black males who live in the city of Detroit who do not behave the way this man behaved. The fact that he did not have a father, the fact that he is a young black male does not give him the right to engage in criminal activity….We can see. We all have eyes. He is a young, black male in the city of Detroit. It does not give him an excuse to go out and commit crimes nor is it a reason to show him leniency, because he doesn’t have a father.”

There are obvious justice and fairness dilemmas in cases like this, where the violence is perpetrated by a group and only a few members of that group are prosecuted. Although at least twenty people participated in the maiming of Utash, few witnesses came forward and only five of the attackers were charged. All of the sentences are relatively light, with only Wonzey Saffold, 30, who had a significant prior criminal record receiving substantial jail time serving more than six years in prison. James D. Davis, 24, was sentenced to one year.  Bruce Wimbush, 18, received probation under a special program designed for defendants aged 17 to 20. Juvenile offender Courtney Robinson received an indefinite sentence in a juvenile residential center.

It is true that they are being punished while the majority of the mob that beat Utash is escaping  without consequences, but that doesn’t lessen the culpability of those who were apprehended. Cummings admitted to “stomping” and beating a helpless, overwhelmed man who nearly died a result. Whether he did this alone or with 20, it is a serious crime.

Some ethics observations:

  • At one level, the sentence starkly defines the dubious  ethics reasoning that the culture has increasingly embraced over time, which is essentially the Clarence Darrow model. Darrow believed that there was no free will, and the criminals were simply unlucky players in life’s lottery, doomed to be punished by the winners for the inevitable results of being poor, badly raised, stupid, or otherwise socially handicapped. Thus the ethical reasoning of those who adopt Darrow’s world view is ruled by the ethical values of empathy, kindness, compassion, mercy, love and forgiveness. It certainly sounds good and feels good, but it also essentially disposes of another package of ethical values: responsibility, respect, accountability, fairness, and citizenship. While Darrow may have been correct in theory, no society can function in which all crimes are excused or only lightly punished because lawless people just can’t help being the way they are. If they can’t help themselves, then society’s duty is to protect everyone else from them, one way or the other. While it may not be “fair” that life deals a lousy hand to some while others begin their journey with a straight flush, it is less fair to allow those who contribute little to society to continue to abuse those who try to be law abiding and productive. Doing wrongful, harmful things should have proportional consequences, whatever the motives or reasons for the harmful conduct.
  • The obvious comparison is to the much derided “Affluenza” case sentence, but that should proceed with caution and restraint. It is true that the sociopathic youth who was given a suspended sentence with mandated treatment was single-handedly responsible for harm to several victims, including  four deaths, while Cummings shared culpability with twenty assailants for the injuries to only one victim. However, a) Cummings intended to harm his victim, while Ethan Couch rendered his carnage negligently and recklessly, but not intentionally; b) Couch was 16 years old, a minor, and Cummings is an adult under the law; and c) however one feels about Couch’s sentence, it was intended to rehabilitate and treat, and could be defended as something other than waiving the law out of pity.
  • The sentence Judge Callahan gave to Cummings, when paired with the “reasons” offered by the judge, is far worse—ethically indefensible— than the violently derided sentence Judge Boyd gave Couch (and his parents, who are paying for the Rolls Royce treatment center he was sent to.)
  • Callahan’s explanation for the sentence calls his judgment and competence into serious doubt. Cummings needed a father—so what? So did Bill Clinton; so did Malcolm X; so did Babe Ruth and Barack Obama. Everybody needs something they lacked in their upbringing: how does that excuse in any way beating a man to the point of death? What Cummings needs most of all is a conscience. If he doesn’t have one, and they are extremely difficult to cultivate this late in life, then the longer he is kept away from the rest of us, the better for all concerned. If someone had “beaten the hell out of him” when he “made a mistake,” that would have made Cummings less likely to beat the hell out of a motorist whom Cummings thought made a mistake? Ah. This is a smoking gun statement proving that the judge is, sadly, an idiot, and unfit to sit on the bench, and maybe even a park bench. That’s terrible logic, terrible social science, and terrible child rearing practice—and it certainly is terrible judging. This is a ridiculous argument that only a ridiculous judge could make, one so intellectually deficient that he can’t even see how foolish it makes him look to everyone who isn’t dumber than he is. “We’ve all been 19 years of age”???? What are you saying, your Honor? That you wanted to beat the brains out of people when you were 19? That everybody is like Cummings at that age? I have news for the judge: black or white, they aren’t. I don’t know anyone who did this, wanted to do this or fleetingly considered doing it. Callahan is making an “everybody does it” rationalization when not only does everyone not do it, almost everyone doesn’t do it!
  • Compared to the uproar over the “Affluenza” verdict, the scarcity of  media and online condemnation of this one has been deafening. Judge Boyd was widely but falsely accused of racial bias because she had sentenced African American criminals much like Cummings to prison, but since Cummings is black and his patron judge is white, there is no fake racism charge to level, and thus no “story.” While they all pounced on the Couch sentence, the Cummings fiasco has received no coverage at all from CNN, MSNBC, the Daily Beast, or the Huffington Post, nor from conservative sites like The Blaze. Not enough culture wars fodder there to exploit, apparently.
  • Yet there are double standards galore to be found here. For example, Sean Bergin, a New Jersey TV reporter, has been suspended for editorializing in his report on a cop shooting about the epidemic of “fatherless black men,” which was widely taken as a racial slur. (Bergin’s commentary was unprofessional for a reporter, suggesting that he has a future at Fox or CNN.) Criticizing Bergin’s remarks, Bob Butler, the president of the National Associated of Black Journalists, told the AP:

“Are there problems in the inner city with kids without fathers? Yes. But does that make kids violent? No. There are a lot of kids without fathers who go to college, graduate and become upstanding citizens. He’s talking about a social phenomenon where there’s lack of opportunity in communities.”

I will not hold my breath waiting for Butler to make a similar comment in relation to the rationale for Cummings’ rap on the wrist, and neither should you.

  • Meanwhile, a mob of 20 or more African-Americans beating a white man into a coma prompted no investigation or action from Eric Holder’s Justice Department, and no condemnation from President Obama. You will recall that the latter felt compelled to inject himself into a local murder investigation when the victim “could have been his son.”  I guess when the assailants could be his sons, Obama adopts the proper neutrality that a President is supposed to maintain in such local criminal matters. Now, I’m not sure the attack on poor Utash should prompt such an investigation, but then, I think “hate crime” is a crock. Since the current administration wants to wallow in seeking civil rights violations, however, when black Americans are harmed by whites–and when tasteless Fourth of July floats offend black citizens who think race should insulate the President from criticism—I don’t see how it can ignore this kind of obvious race-based attack and still credibly claim to represent all Americans equally. I encourage someone to reconcile this discrepancy for me.


Pointer and Facts: Jonathan Turley

Sources: Oakland Press, Detroit Free Press, Heavy



18 thoughts on “Ethics Observations On The Latrez Cummings Sentence

  1. I encourage someone to reconcile this discrepancy for me.

    I am sure the Stormfront White Nationalist community would love to explain, there is no doubt that such discrepancies provide groups like Stormfront recruitment material.

  2. I can’t reconcile the discrepancy, but I wonder how many people will ever stop to render aid when they hit pedestrians after this? Particularly, if I may be so raaaaacist, a white motorist hitting a black pedestrian in the inner city.

  3. There are double-standards galore, but they have little to do with the two cases in point. As Justice Brandeis famously wrote,

    “Decency, security and liberty alike demand that government officials be subjected to the same rules of conduct that are commands to the citizen. In a government of laws, existence of the government will be imperiled if it fails to observe the law scrupulously. Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or ill, it teaches the whole people by its example. Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself.”

    Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438, 485 (1928) (Brandeis, J., dissenting).

    Our government has become a serial scofflaw. Clarence Thomas committed felonies in his fraudulent Ethics in Government Act filings, but as everyone knows, despite the patent criminality of his acts, Justice Thomas was never going to be criminally prosecuted, because—in contrast to lowly citizens like Barry Bonds and Martha Stewart—Supreme Court Justices are above the law. As Michael Tomasky of The Guardian (U.K.) observes:

    “Obviously, Thomas is not going to be indicted over this. But how could a man—a member of the Supreme Court!—just openly lie on such a form? Lie? Yes, rather obviously. Let’s put it this way. If you or I were filling out a form, and we came to a question about our spouse’s income, and we knew very well that our spouse had income, we would check the appropriate income category. And here is one of the nine leading legal people in the United States. On what conceivable honest basis could he have thought his wife, who got up every morning and went to work every day at one of Washington’s most richly endowed think tanks, had no income? For six years?

    I wish we had a satirist, a Balzac, chronicling this age. It is beyond believability.”

    Michael Tomasky, Clarence Thomas, What?, Michael Tomasky’s Blog (The Guardian (U.K.), Jan. 27, 2011,

    Crime has little consequence, provided that you are too important to jail. In Colorado, a fund manager who hit a cyclist and left him at the scene evaded prison altogether because he WAS a fund manager. Joshua Holland, A Different Legal System for the Rich: Imagine Getting Off Easy for Hit-and-Run Because You Run a Hedge Fund, Alternet, Nov. 24, 2010. How this sentence is any less ethical is not apparent on its face.

    What I despise is selective outrage.

    • What I despised is false, baseless outrage directed at a judge you don’t like on the flimsy basis of an entirely different case. Sorry you boys got egg on your face trying to slime a black jurist who puts his country and the Constitution before the Marxist cause… but that was your own doing. Now tell me exactly how Balzac comes into this??

      • Bouldergeist was right about Thomas’s botched form…I think the odds favor it being a mistake, but such mistakes have disbarred lawyers. B can’t answer, because I banned him. He was a young troll, insufficiently curious about reality once a convenient construct had been implanted in him by leftist professors.

    • Interesting. What I despise is partisan grandstanding, unjustified insults and lazy criticism. Read this, you ass:

      Will Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas be impeached because he failed to disclose his wife’s income, as required by Federal law, for at least five years? No.

      Should he be? Probably not, though if it was proven that he intentionally used incorrect information, he could be found guilty of perjury. More likely is a civil penalty. In any event, his wife’s income isn’t a crucial piece of information in Thomas’s case, though his ideological enemies will argue otherwise. Such an omission is virtually never a cause for judicial discipline.

      Is it a serious breach of his duties nonetheless? Yes.

      Does such conduct require his resignation? It could justify a resignation, but not require one. It is hard to see how the failure to disclose provided any benefit to the Justice. This seems to be just inexplicable carelessness.

      Was repeatedly indicating that his wife had no outside income when she had in fact earned over $600,000 from the Heritage Foundation in the five years unethical? Absolutely. Thomas either knew about her income and intentionally misrepresented it on the form, knew about it and carelessly left it off the form, or didn’t know about her income when he had an obligation to know, because he had a duty to fill out the form accurately. The best he can claim is Charley Rangel’s supposed level of innocent but irresponsible carelessness. That is unlikely, and stupid if true. The worst is a deliberate effort to hide his wife’s connection to Heritage, which is even more unlikely because it would be even more stupid. Ginny Thomas hardly keeps a low profile. This not something Thomas could hide by ignoring it on a form.

      And her activities, while they give anti-Thomas, liberal activists ammunition to cry bias and appearance of impropriety, should not be used to cast doubt on Thomas’s objectivity—not in the 21st Century. As Judge Reinhardt’s recent refusal to recuse himself from the three judge panel considering the legality of California’s anti-same sex marriage law properly noted, the times are long past when one spouse’s opinions and activities can be fairly attributed to the other. Reinhardt is something of a reverse Thomas: his wife, Ramona Ripston, heads the American Civil Liberty Union, which is at least as liberal in its causes as the Heritage Foundation is conservative. He wrote, in part:

      “My wife’s views, public or private, as to any issues that may come before this court, constitutional or otherwise, are of no consequence. She is a strong, independent woman who has long fought for the principle, among others, that women should be evaluated on their own merits and not judged in any way by the deeds or position in life of their husbands (and vice versa). I share that view and, in my opinion, it reflects the status of the law generally, as well as the law of recusal, regardless of whether the spouse or the judge is the male or the female.”
      . . .
      “Proponents’ contention that I should recuse myself due to my wife’s opinions is based upon an outmoded conception of the relationship between spouses. When I joined this court in 1980 (well before my wife and I were married), the ethics rules promulgated by the Judicial Conference stated that judges should ensure that their wives not participate in politics. I wrote the ethics committee and suggested that this advice did not reflect the realities of modern marriage–that even if it were desirable for judges to control their wives, I did not know many judges who could actually do so (I further suggested that the Committee would do better to say “spouses” than “wives,” as by then we had as members of our court Judge Mary Schroeder, Judge Betty Fletcher, and Judge Dorothy Nelson). The committee thanked me for my letter and sometime later changed the rule. That time has passed, and rightly so. In 2011, my wife and I share many fundamental interests by virtue of our marriage, but her views regarding issues of public significance are her own, and cannot be imputed to me, no matter how prominently she expresses them. It is her view, and I agree, that she has the right to perform her professional duties without regard to whatever my views may be, and that I should do the same without regard to hers. Because my wife is an independent woman, I cannot accept Proponents’ position that my impartiality might reasonably be questioned under § 455(a) because of her opinions or the views of the organization she heads.”

      This does not excuse Thomas’s inexplicable omission of his wife’s income on the form, however. It was an embarrassing breach of duty for any lawyer, even more so for a Supreme Court Justice. He ought to accept responsibility and appropriate punishment. He also owes his colleagues on the Court, his profession, and the public an apology. We have to be able to expect better than this from someone of his stature and authority.

      You know who wrote this? I did, in 2010 and unlike Michael Tomasky, I’m not a biased, partisan pundit, and I DO know something about judicial ethics, since I teach it. You might have checked my search function to see if I was engaging in “selective outrage” before impugning my integrity and objectivity, but you are interested in throwing bombs, not fair debate.

      Then there’s the irrelevant reference to white collar criminals and big shots getting away with murder. I’ve written plenty about that too, with more outrage than over this, but I’m not doing your research for you. You would rather dig up unrelated quotes to attack my integrity than take the time it requires to actually check my record.

      [Insert “Screw you” here.]

      Of course, even if you were correct, it’s a really dumb comment. Are you seriously comparing beating someone to near death with filling out an ethics form incorrectly? Nor is the topic of the obligation of government officials to be held to an absolute standard germane to the post in any way.

      So you are banned, Jerk: 1) for impugning my integrity without checking your facts, 2) for hijacking posts for your own agenda—start your own blog: I pick the topics here and 3) for being a troll rather than an honest contributor.

      I kind of liked having a terrorist apologist commenting—that was fine. Also the Zinn-Chomsky acolyte slot has been vacant for a while, and our supply of anarchists is running low. I can even tolerate quoting Tomasky, who is beneath contempt, a complete partisan hack incapable of seeing two sides to any political controversy. But you don’t wave unethical conduct I was extremely clear in condemning to accuse me of “selective outrage” and get to stay here—it is the equivalent of being invited to my house and throwing up on my lap.

      • And with this, Bouldergeist has breathed his last here, though he may sneak a comment in while the system is purging him—I’ll delete it when I see it. This one was an open-and shut case, and the “selective outrage” line the final straw. Posts are searchable here—I am not going to be castigated for not writing what I in fact wrote.

        Like all other ban-ees, he can get reinstated with an apology emailed to me, indicating that he understands the error of his ways.

      • I had forgotten about that controversy over Justice Thomas’ wife, Jack. Thanks for the reminder. It’s rather puzzling, isn’t it? I didn’t even know who Tomasky is! I rather doubt I’ll suffer for that bit of ignorance, though.

        • I had forgotten about it too. It was puzzling, and it was strange. There is literally no explanation of it that made sense then, or now, with “idiotic mistake” being slightly more plausible than “pointless intentional deception.”

  4. Well at least they got some time in jail, beats the ‘book reports’ Judge Tracy Hunter handed down to most of the bored juvenile thugs in Cincinnati that beat a man more than half to death – whom later died, not directly from injuries but from mental incapacitation and alcoholism after the fact. Here are the links to the whole sickening story but alas, she herself may get her day in court. One can only hope, seeing as she is truly bat shit crazy – and that technical diagnosis comes from her own co-workers!

    The original story about the teens that seemed to start this whole storm:

    The following story where she has now been indicted on nine charges:!bnyz6n

    And if you have an extra minute you really should take a moment to see her preach for her church congregation where she actually had the audacity to compare herself to Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King among others (starts approximately at the 48:45 mark) – this is a classic. Get the popcorn ready, this is entertainment at it’s finest! I promise you it is well worth the time . . .

  5. Couch was 16 years old, not 14 years old. And the comparison is easy to make despite the situations being different (including intent). Both were given lenient sentences because of lack of parental discipline. In both cases it is outrageous because if they did not learn discipline growing up, then not giving them discipline now for it — is sending them the message that there is still no consequences for their actions. In both cases there were plenty of other opportunities for them to learn consequences for their actions. Their parents were not the only authority in their lives. The judges in both cases were wrong.

    There is also of course one other difference between the cases however:

    Couch never expressed remorse. Latrez Cummings did. Which is the first step of rehabilitation.

      • I wouldn’t say that three years constitutes a big difference. Cummings is also actually going to serve time in jail, while Couch isn’t.

        I would also say showing remorse shows more willingness and ability to be rehabilitated than age does. Remorse would be something expected of a sixteen year old who made an enormous mistake costing four people their lives. Especially one that would expect to be rehabilitated.

        Couch had been previously sentenced to probation, as well as an alcohol awareness class in February 2013 as well as 12 hours of community service.

        One of the key arguments for Ethan Couch’s rehabilitation was also that his family could afford to send him to a state of the art facility where he could be rehabilitated. He wound up instead being sent to a state-facility funded mostly by taxpayers (with a small portion coming from his parents).

        Couch might ‘only’ be sixteen. But even a sixteen year old is capable of understanding — no matter how rich and how much they think they can get away with — they should feel remorseful for actions that cost other people their lives.

        • You mean capable of understanding the advice of their lawyers that they should appear to show remorse and contrition. You can’t possibly be that naive. The three years can indeed make THAT difference.

          • Even at sixteen, you are capable of understanding the advice of your lawyers. Especially given that Couch pled no contest to his citation earlier in 2013. Or are you arguing that his lawyers did not advise him to show remorse?

            One can make plenty of assumptions. You can’t say with 100% certainty that Cummings show of remorse was insincere. You can however say that Ethan Couch made no show of remorse.

            In any case, regardless of the sincerity of Cummings — my argument is not based on Cummings being sentenced fairly. But rather on BOTH being given light sentences, and being entirely comparable.

            I further argue that by giving him a light sentence, it aids his belief that he can get away with anything. Especially given his reported comments heard saying “I’m Ethan Couch, I’ll get you out of this.” At the very least Cummings is serving six months in jail.

            How does giving him a light sentence show him that his actions have consequences? Especially given that his actions led to the death of four people (and the injuries of others).

            Ethan Couch didn’t just drive drunk. He stole his alcohol as well (despite having been ordered earlier to attend an alcohol awareness class. Which either he did not do, or did not listen to.)

            Both sentences send the wrong messages — that it’s okay to have total disregard for people’s lives (which Couch did, regardless of intent, by choosing to drive drunk three times over the legal limit) as long as you have a good excuse. I do not think that being under age (or his parents failing to teach him that that you can get away with anything by being rich) are good excuses.

            I for one will not be surprised if Ethan Couch gets into more legal trouble in the near future. Hopefully nobody gets hurt because of Judge Jean Boyd or Judge Callahan’s light sentences. I won’t be surprised if they do however. I just hope the next time, they get judges who will hold them accountable, rather than hold their hand.

            • I don’t like either sentence, Tom, but you have not successfully disposed of the two main reasons Cummings’ was worse—as an adult, he is more accountable than a minor, legally and emotionally, and second, he intentionally harmed his victim, and Couch, however negligent, did not. Couch’s judge discounted the bad parenting excuse, as she should have; Cummings’ judge gave it absurd weight.

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