People v. State

fairly undermining public confidence in the administration of justice

St. Joseph County judges vs. Elkhart County judges

August 31, 2009 By: John Kindley Category: Uncategorized

While looking online for the phone number of Judge Marnocha’s chambers, I came across this very informative interview he gave to the South Bend Tribune in 2006. Particularly interesting is this excerpt:

Q: Are you aware of the perception some people have that St. Joseph County judges are too lenient, and more lenient than in Elkhart County?

A: We’re in the top third. Does that say something about St. Joe County or does it say that something is out of whack in Elkhart County? If we would be in the bottom half or the bottom third, I would think you could make a statement then that our sentences are lenient in St. Joe County. That’s interesting because I actually thought that we would be ranked lower than that. I am not surprised that Elkhart is high on the list.

I have the sense in Elkhart that quite honestly, historically, the prosecutor runs the county. I think any defense lawyer will tell you that in Elkhart County, the prosecutor gets what the prosecutor wants.

(Marnocha said that might be because every judge in Elkhart was a career deputy prosecutor before taking the bench.)

Q: What do you think about the fact that St. Joseph Superior Judge Jerome Frese’s average sentences for most types of felonies were lower than Elkhart Circuit Judge Terry Shewmaker’s?

A: (Having known Shewmaker since the days when both were chief deputy prosecutors in their respective counties, Marnocha said he was not surprised that Shewmaker is handing out longer sentences.)

It’s interesting because my perception with respect to Judge Frese is that with murders and … serious violent felonies, he tends to be on the higher range.

I think each judge sort of has a certain line that’s drawn that says, “OK, these particular kinds of offenses are offenses that are going to get maybe a more lenient sentence, maybe probation or community corrections, but once you cross that line, maybe crimes of violence, crimes involving children, crimes with weapons … those crimes tend to get higher sentences and result more in incarceration than status offenses.

It might not just be the judges, but also the juries, that differ between the two counties. Compare the facts and outcomes of these two recent trials, both involving a claim of self-defense:

Man gets 45 years for his role in shootout (Judge Shewmaker’s court in Elkhart County)

Man found not guilty in reunion shooting (Judge Marnocha’s court in St. Joseph County)

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