A Catawba County trial judge has been scolded by the N.C. Court of Appeals for invoking Christian teachings into a lecture during a defendant's sentencing phase.
In its opinion released yesterday, however, the court ruled
that the judge's word choice did not violate the due process of the defendant, Max Earls, who was sentenced to 45-55 years in prison for sexually abusing his children.
State case law deems that if a judge considers irrelevant and improper material in determining a sentence, it would violate the defendant's rights. Earls cited that case law in his appeal from a trial last year. During the sentencing phase, Superior Court Judge Richard D. Boner told Earls:
"I think children are a gift of God, and I think God expects when he gives us these gifts that we will treat them as more precious than gold, that we will keep them safe from harm the best as we're able and nurture them, and the child holds a special place in this world. In the 19th chapter of Matthew, Jesus tells his disciples, 'suffer the little children, to come unto me, forbid them not: for such is the kingdom of heaven.' And the law in North Carolina, and as it is in most states, treats sexual abuse of children as one of the most serious crimes a person can commit, and rightfully so, because the damage that's inflicted in these cases is incalculable. It's murder of the human spirit in a lot of ways. I'm going to enter a judgement in just a moment. But some day you're going to stand before another judge far greater then me, and you're going to have to answer to him why you violated his law, and I hope you're ready when that day comes."
In its ruling yesterday the appellate judges called Boner out for using religious references. Ultimately, however, they ruled that Boner was not using his personal religious views as the basis for his sentencing, and thus did not violate Earls' due process.
"Nevertheless," wrote the appellate judges, citing additional case law, "we remind trial courts that 'judges must take care to avoid using language that could give rise to an appearance that improper factors have played a role in the judge's decision-making process even when they have not.' "