Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Judge violated regulations in keeping teen out of prison


By showing mercy to a teenager and keeping him out of state prison, a King County judge has flummoxed Department of Corrections officials who say the decision to sentence the youth to home detention was improper -- and, in fact, against the law.

Friday, Superior Court Judge Harry McCarthy listened to an hour of tearful testimony from the family of Jordan Jantoc, 17, who accidentally shot his stepbrother to death in their basement bedroom a year ago and pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter.

The teen's mother, stepfather and siblings pleaded for leniency, pointing out that the boy had no criminal record and that the shooting was unintentional. Time in prison, they said, would only harden the impressionable youth.

McCarthy agreed, ruling that Jantoc should spend 24 months on electronic home-monitoring. For the last year, the teen has been doing just that, living under his parents' supervision and not setting foot outside of their Boulevard Park home, except for school.

But according to the King County Prosecutor's Office, Corrections said no. Under state law, home detention is not available to offenders convicted of a violent offense. And it is also not to be levied for more than one year.

"This is an unusual case, and the judge was trying to do something creative," said Mark Larson, chief deputy prosecutor. "That creative sentence was not something the DOC was comfortable implementing. They are not the Department of Creative Alternatives, and they have very strict guidelines by which they handle offenders."

Deputy Prosecutor Don Raz had initially recommended a three-year sentence for Jantoc. And Larson noted that it is up to Corrections -- not the judge -- to determine exactly where that time should be served.

But McCarthy appears to have made the decision himself. The judge did not return a call seeking comment.

For Jantoc's family -- whipsawed between joy at the initial home-detention decision and fear at the sudden roadblock -- the latest wrinkle comes as a shock.

"Can you believe this?" said Lena Jantoc, the teen's mother. "Isn't the judge the one who's supposed to make these decisions? When I found out, I was trying not to cry. Are they going to put my son in jail now? We're all so worried."

Matthew King, the boy's lawyer, said he wasn't surprised at the glitch.

"We were hoping, frankly, that this would fly under the radar," King said. "There have been cases at DOC where they don't pick up on an error and let it slide."

He plans to meet with Raz and offer a proposal to McCarthy that would achieve the same end, keeping the youth at home but through alternate means. One method might be to set a new sentencing date far enough into the future that credit for time served -- at home and under his parents' supervision -- would take care of the two-year problem.

Larson seemed to concur.

"This is an unusual case," he said. "We were not advocates of this particular outcome, but we're not going to stamp our feet and be sore losers."

A hearing with McCarthy has been set for Oct. 5.

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