Blind justice

Judge Thomas Power listens to a court sentencing in December 2017.

TRAVERSE CITY — Appellate judges on Monday called local Judge Thomas Power’s actions “discriminatory” and “constitutionally inappropriate” in sentencing a pregnant woman based on her due date.

The late 2018 case saw Power sentence local Samantha Hughes to 13-24 months in jail — a timeframe deliberately set to keep Hughes in custody drug-free until her child’s birth — for cutting free of a tether and fleeing prosecution. She’d been on probation after a conviction for meth use.

Appellate judges initially denied Hughes’ May 2019 appeal, but it was later remanded back for review by the Michigan Supreme Court. The 2-3 decision came July 9 and reversed Power’s ruling, sending the case back to a different 13th Circuit Court judge for resentencing.

“We conclude that the trial court’s reasoning behind the defendant’s sentence is constitutionally inappropriate, prejudicial, and exemplifies extreme bias,” the decision, signed by judges Kathleen Jansen and Jane Beckering, reads.

The decision also states a belief that had Hughes not been pregnant, the court would have imposed a “different or lesser” sentence, and that Power did not consider whether the sentence was a proportionate punishment for Hughes’ crime.

The news — and a demand for Hughes’ release — came on the same day as her due date.

In November, Hughes pleaded guilty to violating her probation — a three-year term set in August 2018 after she pleaded guilty to using meth and tampering with an electronic monitoring device. Sentencing on those charges was delayed, pending successful completion of probation.

It was during those November proceedings she, represented by Attorney Matthew Connolly, announced her pregnancy to the court.

Power’s decision cited concerns of Hughes’ history of meth and cocaine use and a fear for her unborn child’s health.

“Thinking about [defendant] versus the unborn child I think I know whose side I’m on,” Power wrote. “That (sentence) will get her out probably a month after she delivers the child … and that will give us a healthy baby hopefully.”

Connolly argued that Hughes avoided drug use during her first two pregnancies. She told the court she “would never jeopardize my children or baby due to any drugs.”

Power’s decision also notes Hughes’ past convictions.

Hughes’ online records in 86th District Court include appearances for retail fraud, attempted destruction of police property, attempted assault or obstruction of a police officer, use of methamphetamine and several instances of driving without a license or without insurance.

They were a point of reference, too, for Court of Appeals Judge Jane Markey, who disagreed with her colleagues.

She argued in a dissenting opinion that Hughes’ sentence could “hardly be called disproportionate” and, given her priors, could even be viewed as lenient. She goes on to write that Power’s intent should not factor into questions of proportionality.

“A sentence is either proportionate to the seriousness of the circumstances surrounding the offense and the offender or it is not,” Markey wrote. “It took defendant less than three months to violate her probation, and she has 16 prior misdemeanors.”

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