'Saint' Benitez Censured by Ninth Circuit Over 'Scared Straight' Tactic

AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, File

U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez, whose rulings in favor of gun owners have earned him the nickname "Saint Benitez", has been censured by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals for briefly putting the daughter of a defendant in handcuffs in his courtroom in an attempt to steer her away from drugs. 


According to the Ninth Circuit, that act "constitute(s) abusive or harassing behavior,” and as a result, Benitez will not be assigned any new criminal cases for the next three years. 

Benitez explained that his intent in the handcuffing was to keep the girl from heading down a path of using drugs.

Her father, who had a drug-related history, told Benitez during the sentencing hearing that his daughter had used marijuana and he feared she would be “following the same footsteps as I am right now.”

Benitez then had the girl placed in handcuffs and asked her, “You see where your dad is?” and later asked, “How did you like the way those cuffs felt on you?” 

Later he told the girl, “That was the message I was hoping to get to you. So your dad’s made some serious mistakes in his life, and look at where it’s landed him. And as a result of that, he has to spend time away from you. And if you’re not careful, young lady, you’ll wind up in cuffs, and you’ll find yourself right there where I put you a minute ago.”

Witness accounts differ on how long the girl was handcuffed, but several people reported she was crying throughout the hearing and after leaving the courtroom.

The council wrote that Benitez responded to complaints about the incident by stating “that his actions were motivated by a desire to change the alleged behavior of (the defendant’s) daughter and to potentially change the behavior of (the defendant) as well.” He said that no one objected to his order at the time and also said he’d be willing to apologize to the girl “if I could also briefly explain why I did what I did.”


The Ninth Circuit declared that Benitez's actions exceeded the authority of a district judge and created "a spectacle out of a minor child in the courtroom"; chilling "the desire of friends, family members, and members of the public to support loved ones at sentencing.”

While the teen may have been in the courtroom to support her dad during sentencing, it sounds like her dad was doing his best to steer her in the right direction and Judge Benitez just lent a helping hand(cuff). I don't think that's worth even an admonishment from the Ninth Circuit, much less a formal censure, and I can't help but wonder if Benitez's pro-2A decisions from the bench played a role in the heavy-handed punishment he received from the appellate court. 

Was it unconventional for Benitez to put the teen in cuffs to prove a point? Sure. But I'm actually impressed that he cared enough to listen to what the defendant told him, and to do what he could to remind her that she was heading down the wrong path. Benitez may not be a saint, but he seems like a decent man, and the Ninth Circuit's punishment doesn't fit his "crime". It's a travesty of justice as far as I'm concerned... an outcome that's all too common at the Nith Circuit Court of Appeals. 


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