ANNAPOLIS – Sometimes, it helps to say you’re sorry.
The Maryland Court of Appeals Thursday upheld the sentence of a man who claimed his judge improperly punished him for his refusal to show remorse.
The Court, voting 5-2, affirmed a 1994 ruling by the Court of Special Appeals and denied a defense request for a new sentencing hearing. Judge Robert M. Bell, writing the majority opinion, declared the treatment of remorse in sentencing “a matter of important public concern.”
A Baltimore County jury convicted Arnold Jerome Jennings Jr. on four criminal counts in connection with an armed robbery in 1992. He received three concurrent 20-year sentences on robbery charges and a 5-year concurrent sentence on a handgun charge.
Jennings had maintained his innocence throughout his trial, where prosecutors said he was one of two men who held up Stewart’s Root Beer restaurant with an Uzi on the night of February 29, 1992.
During his sentencing hearing, Circuit Court Judge Alfred L. Brennan Sr. asked Jennings if he had anything to say, and told him what he would say was “very important, very important.”
Jennings responded, “Your Honor, jury found me guilty. You have got to sentence me. But when you do, can you make it as least as possible? I’d like to be there with my kid.”
Judge Brennan imposed the sentences, saying in part, “Nothing is going to be suspended because this gentleman does not have any remorse, none whatsoever.”
In 1993, a review panel modified the sentence to 20 years, with all but 12 years suspended, and five years’ probation.
Assistant Public Defender George Burns Jr., Jennings’ lawyer, filed a motion with the Court of Appeals on grounds that the judge improperly sentenced Jennings for refusing to admit guilt, and asked for a new sentencing hearing. The Court of Special Appeals rejected a similar motion in 1994.
Judge Bell wrote that the sentences given to Jennings were within the legal guidelines. A lack of remorse had been taken into account in previous cases, Bell wrote, “inasmuch as acceptance of responsibility is the first step in rehabilitation.”
The opinion concluded it was Jennings’ “refusal to accept responsbility, or show remorse, for his actions on which the court focused. That factor may be considered in deciding to mitigate the defendant’s sentence.”
Judge Irma Raker, writing the dissenting opinion, said the sentence appeared to be imposed because Jennings refused to state he was guilty, which would be a violation of Jennings’ Fifth Amendment rights. “Because Jennings received a greater sentence for continuing to protest his innocence, he is entitled to a new sentencing hearing,” Raker wrote. Neither lawyer in the case was available for comment. -30-