Jason Hart: Flint sentencing more than excessive.
Last Monday I was present for the sentencing portion of this two-year Flint saga and needless to say I was shocked and appalled by the outcome. First and foremost, the district attorney changed the terms of the plea agreement at the last minute by recommending to the court that a 60-day jail term be included. When the plea agreement was made in January, the DA said “we don’t recommend jail time.” This was the agreement Dennis entered into in good faith and Monday that offer was changed at the 11th hour. This type of behavior is inexcusable! I know for a fact that if jail time was a requirement when the agreement was made in January that Dennis would never have accepted the deal. It’s not right and I think the people of Summit County should know how business is being conducted at our district attorney’s office.
The court then proceeded to ignore the recommendations of the probation office and the doctor who performed a psychosexual evaluation. Both reports recommended that the court impose no jail time and the psychosexual evaluation came back absolutely normal with no areas of risk. The court decided to impose a 30-day jail sentence despite the fact the offenses pleaded guilty to virtually never carry any jail time for first-time offenders. If the judge was going to ignore these evaluations, why were they ordered in the first place? I see no explanation for this decision. Interestingly enough, Lawrence Taylor (former NY Giant) was convicted last week of having sex with a minor. His sentence was six years probation and no jail time. That’s right, no jail time! Is it possible that the court has been just a little excessive with Dennis?
Last but certainly not least, the court decided to add insult to injury: In an unprecedented move, the court ordered the public defender to come up with a bill for their work in Dennis’s defense and ordered Dennis to repay the state for the cost of his defense. The judge implied that because Dennis has finally found employment after two years that he now should retroactively pay for the expense of his defense. Let’s remember, Dennis spent in excess of $100,000 for his legal defense before he even got to trial and then had to change attorneys and use the public defender because he ran out of money and had zero income. The public defender, Mr. Christensen, stated that in his 20 years of working for the public defender’s office that he has never once seen a judge make this type of demand. How can a man who has lost everything, been through two trials with hung juries, not worked in two years, and pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor charges be expected to pay back the state for his defense? He has nothing! This is absolute insanity to me. It seems as though this has become a personal thing for the DA and the court and not based on the facts or previous legal precedent. It’s sad to see this happen here in Summit County.
Although I respect the opinions of Dennis Flint’s friends regarding his case, I feel there are factual errors to Jason Hart’s letter that need to be corrected.
First, at no time did the District Attorney’s Office tell Mr. Flint or his attorney that, as Mr. Hart wrote, “we don’t recommend jail time.” What we told Mr. Christiansen during plea negotiations was that our main concern was that he be placed on probation and to get any counseling needed. We said we would be recommending some county jail time as a condition of probation, but were unsure at that time how much we were going to recommend. We could have recommended up to four months in the county jail as a condition of probation, but instead recommended only 60 days. As someone who does not have a great knowledge of the criminal justice system, Mr. Hart may be getting jail time as a condition of probation confused with straight jail time. Mr. Flint was facing up to 18 months in the county jail, if the court decided not to place him on probation. Per our agreement with Mr. Christiansen, we recommended a probation sentence with a term of jail and not straight jail time. If Mr. Flint or his attorney thought we were recommending something different than what was negotiated, they had remedies. They could have either asked that the plea be withdrawn or that the negotiations be enforced. After we gave our recommendations, both Mr. Christiansen and Mr. Flint were allowed to talk. Neither said we went against our word.
Furthermore, as mentioned above, what we say is merely a recommendation. Ultimately, it is up to the judge to sentence a defendant. The judge in this case could have gone completely against our recommendation by sentencing Mr. Flint to eighteen months in jail or even just given him a fine. That is his prerogative.
Finally, when the judge ordered that Mr. Flint pay his taxpayer funded attorney back, he was only following the law. Whether Mr. Christiansen has seen it or not, the Colorado state statutes allow for the court to order a defendant to pay the taxpayers back the cost of his attorney. We shouldn’t fault the judge for merely doing his job of following the law.
Mr. Flint was sentenced based upon his record, the crimes he pleaded to, the law, the recommendations of the District Attorney and the public defender and Mr. Flint’s own statements. Certainly his friends may not like the outcome, but the sentence was sound.
Mark Hurlbert, District Attorney
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