American Justice: Not Guilty, But Sentenced to Seven Years Anyway

There's a half decent chance that you've at least seen a headline for this story that's going viral, and with good reason. Ramad Chatman, a young black male living in Georgia, was found not guilty of an armed robbery charge, but was given a seven year sentence anyway. You're probably asking yourself how in the hell this is possible. You may even be sitting there, trying to rationalize this by saying that there has to be more to it, desperate to believe in the infallibility of the elected officials who oversee the justice system. You're not alone in either of these arenas of mental gymnastics, but prepare for disappointment.

Before we go any further, let's get to the facts of this disturbing story.

Chatman was serving five years probation for breaking into an apartment and stealing a TV in 2012, when he found out that he was the suspect in an armed robbery in 2014. By all accounts, Chatman was a model of probationary excellence, meeting every caveat of his sentence. This argument is strengthened by the fact that he turned himself in as soon as he found out that he was suspected of armed robbery.

Having faith in the American judicial system up to this point, Ramad Chatman went to the police in an attempt to sort this whole felony thing out. Unfortunately for Chatman, his faith in justice being properly served would prove to be unfounded.

Chatman was arrested for the crime, taken to trial, and found not guilty by a jury of his peers. This is where the story should end. A person who is found not guilty of a crime should walk right out of the front door of the courthouse, head held high and, off to a celebratory lunch with his family and friends. Instead, this verdict serves as the pivot point that slaps the reality of the 'crime and punishment' society that we've built right into the faces of millions of Americans. It proves that who actually committed the crime is inconsequential, as long as someone is punished.

Enter Judge John Needledick. Damn autocorrect! I meant Niedrach. The good judge decided that the previously agreed upon terms of meting out justice in America was causing him some kind of presumable intestinal issue, and proceeded to pull rank on the jury, and sentence Chatman to seven years in prison anyway.

So how did the judge get away with putting a man in prison for the better part of a decade, even though the man was found not guilty of the crime in question? Simple. He revoked his probation. You see, it didn't matter that Chatman had reported to his probation officer regularly, paid restitution, and completed his required 'How To Stop Criminaling 101' courses. Judge John Niedrach had eyes on incarcerating Chatman, and that's exactly what he did.

This is nothing more than the latest attack on American justice being applied equally and fairly across the board. We've never managed to wriggle away from the years that have seen systemic abuse of the black community at the hands of the police and courts. From the false conviction of Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter in 1966, to the nation watching the footage of 12-year-old Tamir Rice shot dead within seconds by police in 2014, to this recent sentence of Ramad Chatman, there's no shortage of high-profile accounts of the black community being vilified and abused by a system of law enforcement that we all fund.

This is not an attempt to politicize or racialize the misfortunes of this young man. It is, however, an unveiled attempt to plea for a future based on sanity. The idea that any judge can retroactively overturn a citizen's probation because of a false accusation is draconian and terrifyingly un-American. Cases like this serve as a catalyst for an argument that regular citizens have no hope if someone in power has an unhealthy interest in their torment.

Judge John Niedrach can be contacted at:

3 Government Plaza, Suite 320

Rome, Georgia


Send him a love letter!

Or you can call his judicial assistant at 706-291-5121

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