By Debra Cassens Weiss
The South Dakota Supreme Court said the judge’s comment, used to describe the defendant’s pattern of behavior when drinking alcohol, was “ill chosen” but there was no bias. The June 22 decision (PDF) affirmed an 18-year sentence for the defendant, Ivan Good Plume.
Good Plume was convicted of aggravated assault based on allegations he hit his former girlfriend's new boyfriend with a shovel. At sentencing, the judge noted “35 or 40 criminal entries in a five-year span” and said he assumed all were linked to drinking.
“I don’t doubt you are extremely bright,” the judge said. “I don’t doubt you have a great many good qualities. And unfortunately, when you drink—and this was not my term. It was used by a young Native American in extremely violent circumstances—and he said go native. Now I am not sure what it means but it smacked of huge violence. And that’s absolutely descriptive of the event that went down that night. Absolutely descriptive of the events that brought you here. And I attribute it to nothing more than your inability to control raging anger when you are under the influence of alcohol.”
The court said the transcript shows the judge’s remarks were based on facts and events rather than racial stereotypes or prejudice.
I wonder what the judge would've had to say to trigger someone's racial radar. "He said go native," and:
Sounds like the judge was prejudiced to me. Just a little bit, perhaps. Not necessarily enough to declare a mistrial. But I wouldn't have whitewashed his comment the way the South Dakota Supreme Court did.
Which isn't to say that Good Plume wasn't guilty. Or that he didn't deserve the punishment he got. The question of whether the trial was fair is a separate one. No one should be convicted in a trial with a judge who's biased.
For a case that shows the same basic bias, see Indians, Terrorists = US Enemies. For more on racial bias in general, see Stereotypes as Mental Maps and Americans Refuse to Acknowledge Prejudice.