Excessive Force Case Puts Focus On Sentencing
Anyone who has regularly watched television news reports in Connecticut over the past year has likely seen the footage of former Meriden police officer Even Cossette pushing a defendant into his jail cell with such force that the man fell, hitting the back of his head on a concrete bench.
Pedro Temich was knocked unconscious and taken to the hospital where he was diagnosed with a fractured skull. It took 12 staples to close the 12-centimeter gash in the back of his head.
Cossette was sentenced to 14 months in prison by a federal judge last week. The judge could have handed him an even tougher sentence in the police brutality case — 27 to 33 months — according to federal sentencing guidelines.
Nevertheless, Cossette's criminal defense lawyer still thinks the sentence was excessive and many other defense lawyers agree. Others, though, remain hopeful this case will serve a warning to other "bad cops."
"It is hard to reconcile [Cossette] will have to serve time in jail when the person who was involved in this case who broke several laws never spent a day in jail," attorney Raymond Hassett, of Hassett & George in Simsbury, told one reporter after the sentencing. Hassett requested home confinement and community service as a sentence for his client.
Hugh Keefe, of Lynch, Traub, Keefe & Errante in New Haven, says he's represented more cops in criminal and civil cases than any other practicing lawyer in the state. Even though the sentencing guidelines recommend even more prison time, Keefe believes U.S. District Court Judge Janet Bond Arterton's sentence of 14 months was still unnecessary.
"I do think that his sentence was excessively long. In fact, I don't think he needed incarceration at all," said Keefe. "I think the loss of a man's pension, the loss of a man's job, the loss of a man's identity is more than sufficient punishment.
"I think those things are underrated many times by the court and the public," continued Keefe. "You take away a man's livelihood… you've done a tremendous amount of damage to him. You don't need another 14 months of incarceration. What's that going to serve?"
Jonathan J. Einhorn, a federal criminal defense attorney, agrees with Keefe. "The problem is the sentencing guidelines are just unreasonable when you consider all the circumstances of the offense," said Einhorn. "For instance, in this case the consequences of his convictions will radically change his life whether or not it was 14 months or two months. I think the problem is really that the sentencing commission needs to reconsider a number of its guidelines."
The United States Sentencing Commission is an independent agency of the federal government's judicial branch. It recommends sentences for all federal crimes so there is some uniformity across the country. Einhorn explained that judges do not have to abide by the recommendations in the guidelines but they have to consider them.