Light sentences put NU students above the law

Scott Gordon

Northwestern students owe their peaceful existence to the mercy and generosity of others: the donors who give billions of dollars to the university, the Native Americans who have failed to rise up and drive us out of the Midwest — and a court system willing to minimize hassle for students who commit crimes.

In February former varsity football players Scott Crohn and William Newton pleaded guilty to attempting to shove their way into a woman’s house on Hamlin Street in October.

Originally they were charged with criminal trespass and disorderly conduct. In exchange for their plea, the trespass charge was dropped and Crohn and Newton were sentenced to two days of community service each.

Last week a Weinberg freshman, charged in February with two felonies of selling fake IDs, managed to get his charges reduced to one misdemeanor. He was sentenced to 30 days of community service and issued a $2,335 fine.

Resident worries

Jessica Donnelly, the owner of the Hamlin Street home, declined to comment specifically on Crohn and Newton’s case, but said she wants students living in her neighborhood to be treated like other Evanston residents.

“If there’s protection or special guarantees for students simply because they’re paying for their education, then they’re not being treated as citizens, and that’s unjust,” Donnelly said, adding, “I don’t think it’s the university’s job to babysit.”

Violence and subversion are a normal part of life in a college town. The law ideally should deter crime entirely, but in the United States police usually achieve moderate success at best.

Police concerns

Chief Frank Kaminski of Evanston Police Department said light sentences students receive might be justifiable but also might make law enforcement less effective.

“My concern is what message is being sent to potential offenders in these areas,” Kaminski said. “(Are these sentences) a significant deterrent or not?

“I would have preferred a stronger disposition on these (cases),” he said.

The problem is that the criminal court system has inadvertently placed college students among a de facto protected class.

It’s possible to find a loophole in everything, and the massive backlog of cases at Circuit Court in Skokie widens the gap in judicial equality. Each case that ends in a fluffy plea bargain is a case state prosecutors won’t have to take to trial.

Scaring students straight

NU students are not above serving jail time. They are not above bearing full responsibility for their crimes, especially since they will expect suspects in recent attacks on students to be prosecuted harshly. And considering the way many students approach their education, they would be more likely to learn a few things in prison.

The deals that NU’s student criminals get these days are as extravagant as the behavior of corporate executives who stole and cheated American corporations with reckless abandon and without concern about whether they would get caught.

Then again, prosecutors have brought and will continue to bring those executives to trial — whereas the students will never have to worry much at all.

Assistant City Editor Scott Gordon is a Medill sophomore. He can be reached at [email protected]