Court rules on Trumbull judge's comments about heroin epidemic - WFMJ.com News weather sports for Youngstown-Warren Ohio

Court rules on Trumbull judge's comments about heroin epidemic

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Jonathan Barnes Jonathan Barnes
WARREN, Ohio -

An appellate court has found that a Trumbull County judge did nothing wrong when he commented on the heroin epidemic before sentencing a Warren man for drug trafficking.

The 11th District Court of Appeals last week upheld the six-year-prison sentence handed down in April to 26-year-old Jonathan Barnes, who pleaded guilty to trafficking in heroin.

Although Barnes could have faced a sentence of three to eleven years, prosecutors recommended a five-year sentence.

During sentencing, Trumbull County Common Pleas Judge Peter Kontos asked Barnes if he knew what the number one killer of people was today. Barnes replied “heroin”.

When the judge then asked Barnes what he was doing, Barnes answered “selling heroin”.

According to court records, Judge Kontos then told Barnes, “The epidemic has been around for a long time and every day I look in the obituary and I see people that are too young to die, and it says they died suddenly at their home, which means they OD'd. I see more of those than I do shootings, die of old age.You understand what you did?”

Barnes' attorney, David Engler, argued in his appeal that the judge's statements rendered the sentencing hearing unfair, claiming that comments about the heroin epidemic and deaths show that the sentencing was “enhanced”.

In upholding the sentence, the appeals judges noted that Barnes' attorney cited no case law to support the contention that the judge's comments about the danger of drug use amount to a violation of due process or an enhancement of the sentence due to improper considerations.

The judges further noted that a judge is not prohibited from recognizing potential consequences that may result from a defendant's actions.

Citing state case law, the appellate judges wrote, “A judge's sentencing requires the exercise of personal judgment; the court is not required to divorce itself from all personal experiences and make his decision in a vacuum.”

Barnes is being held at the Lake Erie Correctional Institution.

His prison term is scheduled to expire in 2023.

The ruling may be read here

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