Mulligans in criminal court

Submitted Article


The young pastor at the church I attend recently gave a sermon about “mulligans,” that is, our desire for “do-overs” when we mess up in life.  A “mulligan” is a do-over in golf even though not allowed in the rules and permitted only among friends.  When the player makes a very bad shot, the player calls “mulligan” and is allowed to do-over that shot.  When I heard the “mulligan” sermon it brought a question to mind:  are there “mulligans” in criminal court?  Put another way, can the court grant forgiveness to someone who commits a crime, even a minor offense?  Can the court “wipe the slate clean?”
As to the trial court, my answers are “no.”  This may sound harsh and unsympathetic, but I answer those questions in the negative based upon my interpretation of “equal justice” and the law.  Judges have no power to dismiss a criminal offense based upon the circumstances of the defendant, whether they say they are sorry and it will never happen again, or whether they are a single parent or had rough childhood or are in a protected class, such as elderly, a veteran, or a person of color. 
If someone is convicted of a crime, there must be consequences dictated by the court, though there usually is a broad spectrum of what those consequences may be.  Only the Board of Pardons, or the trial court in very limited circumstances by expungement, can erase a person’s criminal record.  The articles about forgiveness in court generally discuss alternative sentencing, such as probation with chemical dependency treatment and other consequences other than simply incarceration.  I agree that alternative sentencing dispositions are often appropriate, particularly for first offenders, but that is a topic for another time.
Judges also cannot provide forgiveness (on behalf of society) to a criminal defendant.  Forgiveness, in my view, is a matter between individuals.  In Hennepin County District Court in March 2012, the 76 year old victim of a car theft confronted the juvenile offender.  The comments by the participants in court included the following:
Victim:  “When we forgive, we don’t deny the hurt that we have received.  We don’t deny that it was wrong, but we acknowledge there is more to the offender than the offense.”
She (the victim) talked about being a foster mom for about 50 kids, many of them who had been abused and neglected, and how much she empathized with the young man standing before her in court.
“I would like [the teen] to know that I pray for him and the other two [boys who were with him] daily, and that it is not too late for them.  I would also like these boys to think of their own families.  Would they want their families to experience what I have?”
“Again, please let [the boy] know that I sincerely care about him, and I am praying for his redirection and rehabilitation.  A good life awaits him, if he will just choose a new path.  God bless.”
“The hurt, I never thought of that,” said the teen.  “I’m really sorry.  I regret this decision.  I’m sorry for all of the hurt that I caused you.”
The Judge, known to be stern and no-nonsense, finally spoke from the bench.
“I think many of us have been doing this work for a very, very long time, and I have never seen such a powerful moment in my career.  The [teen’s] recognition that you had an impact on somebody, that this is not an anonymous hurt, this is a personal hurt.  It just so happened that you by chance chose as a victim somebody who can change your life.”
“It was the genuine concern and love for this kid who stole her car that blew us all away.  It was a miracle.” 
Minneapolis Star Tribune 3-17-12.
So the next time you are stopped for speeding or some other traffic offense, consider carefully the consequences before you ask the officer for a mulligan.


SHERBURNE COUNTY FAIR BOARD MEMBER Irene Kostreba, pictured here showing a very old poster advertising a Sherwin Linton concert, is still looking for items to display in the county fair history center. Items could be given on loan or donated to the fair board. (Photo by Jennifer Edwards).

FRESH FLAME BURGER serves up fast food with its own flair on Hwy. 10 in Big Lake. Clara Henderson, Kari Luckey and Jamall Whitelaw ordered their food to go from restaurant owner Gus Afrooz. (Photo by Jennifer Edwards).

SHERBURNE COUNTY 4-H’ers got some hands-on experience working at the 4-H foodstand at the fairgrounds Wednesday evening in preparation for the Sherburne County Fair, which starts Wednesday. About 60 kids from six different 4-H clubs learned how to grill burgers, cook fries and hot dogs and serve customers during the orientation event. Above are Big Lakers Katie Olson (left), Kirsten Olson and Taylor Muehlbauer cooking fries and Bailey Muehlbauer (right) getting hamburger buns ready. (Photo by Ken Francis.)

GRAND KNIGHT DENNIS NAGORSKI of the Knights of Columbus presented Big Lake Chief of Police Joel Scharf and Becker Chief of Police Brent Baloun with a donation of prescription drug drop-boxes for each city. Along with marijuana, prescription drugs are often abused because of easy access. Keeping them out of the water system is important to protect the environment. Now our residents have a safe way to dispose of their unwanted or out-dated medications. (Photo by Jennifer Edwards).