Dear PoPville – How Can this guy only get a 4 Year Sentence?

Photo by PoPville flickr user Michael T. Ruhl

Dear PoPville,

I would love to get some attention to this lax sentence. It just terrifies me that this person who violently stabbed someone is only sentenced to 4 years.

From Washington Post:

The Washington man who stabbed another man in the neck has been sentenced to four years in prison, the U.S. Attorney General’s Office announced.

According to the government’s evidence, the attack was prompted by an incident on Sept. 9, 2009, when a juvenile tried to grab the man who would later be stabbed.

The man was unharmed but reported the incident to police.

Three days later, about 10:15 p.m. the juvenile and three men, including 21-year-old Melvin Andrade, rode their bicycles to the busy intersection of 14th Street and Rhode Island Avenue NW.

You can read the rest of the incident here.

24 Comment

  • Yeah, they at least should have added attempted murder charges, which would have put him away for quite a while longer. Since he was retaliating against someone for reporting him to the police, it seems like they could have added obstruction of justice charges or something like that too. Maybe even conspiracy charges since he was part of a group of people who worked together to commit a felony.

  • This is a poorly written article. It does not really say what he was convicted of, only what he was charged with. My guess is that he was convicted of aggravated assault. It sounded like attempted murder for me but I am sure you can get more than 4 years for aggravated assault. The judges in this city are so weak when it comes to sentencing.

  • HA! DC’s “legal system”. Which as of a couple of years ago had a 77% acquittal rate. Could that be a factor in the number of violent crimes and theft?

    But yeah I don’t understand a 4 year sentence myself.

  • Allison

    The unfortunate thing about sentencing is it is so conditioned on whether or not you were lucky enough to “just happen” to survive. So if you get emergency medical treatment fast enough, somehow that justifies the guy who would have killed you if he could getting off with such a light sentence because “hey, at least you survived!”

  • We should have 3-strikes law for violent crime, maybe even a 2-strikes law. You f*ck up, you get one chance. You f*ck up again, you’re in for 25 years, no parole. And when you get out of prison, any wages or salary you make is garnished to pay for your time in prison.

    • I can’t agree with that. We should put violent offenders away for a long time. 25 years or longer is fine with me – including for a first offense. But when we do let someone out, we should not garnish their wages or otherwise make it difficult for them to build a good life out of prison. If we do, we only create a circumstance that means they, with their already criminal tendencies, will be even more certain to reoffend. Someone who committs violent crimes should never be let out of prison – but if we are dumb enough to let them out, we should at least be smart enough to minimize their incentive for reoffending.

  • Seems right in line with what our leaders tolerate! Get 15 years when pleading guilty to second degree murder (even when everyone knows it was 1st), happens all the time. I guess they think that if we send our children to 5-10 years of prison, they’ll just be model citizens when they get out at 35, perfectly trained and ready to run for elected office in DC.

  • I’m not a fan of DC’s feral youth, but who says four years isn’t enough?

    The guy was convicted of three violent felonies, not attempted murder. If you don’t like the way the sentencing guidelines were used, I am certain that a strongly-worded letter to the sentencing judge would be treated with the utmost deference.

    • My guess is you are trolling here Andy. I mean hell, Martha Stewart and Scooter Libby got nearly this much time and they didn’t stick a knife in someones neck and then stab them again and presumably only halt the assault because the knife broke.

    • I’m not trying to troll, it’s just the question is – how much time is enough? Where I’m from, the state has made a huge effort to try to keep sexual predators off the street forever by using civil commitment laws.

      The problem for me is that I can’t tell whether or not the guy who committed these crimes is a permanent predator or a guy who hates people who go to the cops or what. If he’s a predator – keep him in jail for the rest of his life? He could try to kill again.

      If he’s like most violent criminals, he’s male and between 15 and 40 (i’m saying that anecdotally not based on study). Should he stay in jail until he’s 40? Or 50, when he’ll be too slow to chase somebody down and stab them?

      And then we have a legal system with standards of proof, adversarial justice, big caseloads and relatively fixed and arbitrary sentencing guidelines competing with a reality where not everybody is deterred by sentences, such as youth who can’t really grasp what they mean, people have confused views on whether jail is for punishment or rehabilitation or a criminal education. And diminishing criminal behavior across the country for reasons we don’t really understand.

      Basically, I guestion the value of any sentence. Is four years justice for the stabbed person? Maybe. Is four years a deterrent for other people who knew the criminal and the life he was living? Is four years long enough to feel punished but not long enough to feel like a lifelong criminal? Is this guy ever going to get a job again after he gets out of jail, and what does that mean for his family, his children, the government that has to feed, clothe and house him if he can’t get hired or a District that wants to turn around a problematic male youth culture in DC but is filled with unemployable young men?

      I just think we go to a certain place in our minds when we hear about anything other than a severe sentence, and that there are so many factors in play, I just think everyone should remember that we’re dealing in a world of gray. It’s not clear whether the punishments we impose help or hinder us in creating a society that’s more just and better off.

      I guess the overall thought is – the problem here is bigger than just whether 4 years is a long enough sentence.

      • Americans have no idea — no idea whatsoever — how much of an aberration our prison sentences are by world standards.

        Most other civilized countries keep about 0.1% of their population in prison. America keeps 1% of its adult population in prison.

        And despite the fact that we already put more people in prison than any other country in the world, we still don’t think it’s enough.

        Our problem isn’t “not enough people in prison.” Our problem is a vast permanent underclass of generational poverty that we have zero political will to address.

  • Two words: Phil Mendelson

  • At first I supposed when reading the story that he was a juvenile, but he’s the 21 year old. Did the police charge the juvies for anything I wonder? This is ridiculous. And worth raising with someone. Any way to find out the judge?

  • This is another reason DC needs more home rule. The judges in this City are 0% accountable to the people. In any other jurisdiction, they would fear having to answer for something like this, but in DC they are appointed by the Federal government and really not accountable to anybody! This goes for the prosecuters too (US Attorney’s office).

  • it seems he is a repeat offender too..

  • This is an entirely predictable consequence of letting Del. Holmes-Norton and the DC Judicial Nominating Commission stack the DC judiciary with the most radical members of the public defenders office — a process that is well underway, and continuing as we speak

    Let me help put together a few pieces, and show fellow readers how to find out details about the justice system in this city.

    Public court dockets for adult criminal cases are available at

    If you look up the defendant’s name (Melvin Andrade) from this story, you’ll learn that this news story concerns Case No. 2009 CF3 021612. When you click through on that case, you learn that Melvin Andrade was convicted in August 2011 after a jury trial. In other words, he didn’t plead guilty — he made the victim, whom he’d already almost killed for somebody going to the police — face him again in court. (Without knowing anything beyond what was in the Post article and what gets said in my neighborhood, my bet is that Melvin probably thought the victim would be so terrified by the prior experience that he wouldn’t show up in court.)

    The defendant was convicted of all charges (i.e., there was no part of the case for which the defense found reasonable doubt), which included Aggravated Assault While Armed. A web search turns up a defense lawyer’s site showing that aggravated assault while armed is a very serious charge, which under DC law requires proof of a very serious level of injury: “bodily injury that involves a substantial risk of death, unconsciousness, extreme physical pain, protracted or obvious disfigurement, or protracted loss or impairment of the function of a bodily member, organ, or mental faculty.” Because the lead charge was Aggravated Assault While Armed, the judge had the ability to impose up to 15 years in the sentence. (

    As is always explained to us at community PSA meetings, judges in DC usually follow the dc sentencing guidelines in imposing sentence. Now, it’s hard to know where exactly this defendant falls in the guidelines, because he gets to keep his juvenile history secret under DC law. But a glance at the sentencing guidelines ( at page A-1, shows that even if this guy had no criminal history, his guidelines range was 48-120 months — i.e., a judge following the guidelines has to choose a point somewhere between 4 and 10 years.

    So, even assuming that the defendant had no juvenile history (which is a big assumption, for which we have no particular evidence), this Judge sentenced the defendant to the very bottom point of the range of possible sentences.

    There are a variety of reasons why a judge might choose a relatively low sentence. So what was there about this criminal and this crime that made such a low sentence appropriate? Was this a minor crime in the overall spectrum of aggravated assaults? No, the Post story makes pretty plain that this was an especially vicious crime — the defendant and two buddies assaulted innocent citizens precisely because the victims had had the temerity to report to the police when they were assaulted before. In other words, the purpose of this crime was to intimidate citizens — to make them too scared to go to the police when they’re attacked. Was this assault in the heat of passion? No. The Post article makes clear that the victim got away, then the defendant chased after him until he finally caught up. Was it a minor assault? No. The Post article also makes clear that this criminal stabbed the victim once in the neck (I sure wouldn’t want to be stabbed there) then again in the arm. He stabbed him so hard that the knife blade broke off in the victim’s arm. Who knows — maybe if the knife blade hadn’t broken off, then the criminal could have gotten in a few more stabs. (If he’d had a stronger knife, then maybe he could have finished off the victim, and then there wouldn’t have been a case at all. He’ll probably think of that when he buys his next knife in, say, four years…) Did the criminal show a change of heart by pleading guilty and saving everybody — from the victim, to the jurors, to the court, to the government, to his own court-appointed lawyer — from the expense and inconvenience of a trial? No. He went to trial, and we taxpayers paid for every cent of it.

    So what was it? What on earth made this particular defendant worthy of such a low sentence? Nothing is apparent from the facts, as they’re available online. Everything online seems to show that this is someone we strongly need protection from.

    So let’s check out the judge… The case details on the court website shows that the judge was named Michael Ryan. Bios for DC judges are posted here:

    The bio for Michael Ryan shows that he was appointed in 2003, after a 17 year career as a public defender. Now, he may be a very nice, lovely man. He may have been a very good lawyer. But the sentence in this case would seem to show that he has a fundamentally misguided view about our rights to be protected as noncriminal citizens vs the entitlement of violent criminals to remain on the streets even after they’ve viciously violated the social compact. To the extent being a judge means having good judgment when the law gives you a range of possible choices, this guy is lacking.

    A recent news story explained that the DC Nominating Commission (which, for all intents and purposes, seems to be under Del. Holmes-Norton’s thumb) is now overwhelmingly nominating former public defenders. Even when the commission gives multiple choices, the president’s advisers are overwhelmingly choosing the public defender choice. And a google search of recent nominations appears to bear that out:,or.r_gc.r_pw.,cf.osb&fp=782384432d316272&biw=1280&bih=633

    Being a PD is a very one-sided kind of career. You can tell whether someone’s a good or a bad lawyer from their record in court and from their writings. But you can’t tell whether he or she really believed what they were saying when they were constantly minimizing their client’s crimes and arguing for the s lowest possible sentence. You can’t tell whether the person understands the social interest in protecting people from crime. Some will. Some won’t. This judge apparently doesn’t. All the more loss for the rest of us.

    The solution: DC citizens need to demand a more careful nominations process, which effectively balances all four varieties of potential nominees: defenders (in both the public and private sectors — and let’s face facts, this Commission is ignoring the latter), prosecutors (from the both the city and the feds), civil practitioners (whom the commission neglects almost entirely, unless they happen to be especially well connected to Norton and her buddies), and magistrate judges (who, unlike the other 3 categories, will have actually developed a track record so you can tell whether or not they’ll be fair when they get to the next stage.) The nominating commission ( and their patrons (the Mayor and the DC Delegate) need to know that this matters to DC’s citizens — that DC’s citizens are not about to let the hard-won crime reductions of recent days fall by the wayside. And if judges won’t do their job, then the DC Council will just have to enact more mandatory minimums to prevent this kind of outrage from continuing.

    PoP’s post about this outrageous sentence is a good first step. But complaints in blog comments won’t do the job by themselves. If you care about crime in this city, then get to work…

    • Props to “Your Neighbor” above for bringing some facts to the discussion. But there was also a lot of opinion, and I’m not sure we want to take these particular opinions as gospel.

      Questionable opinion: there’s something reprehensible about demanding a jury trial if you’re accused. Frankly, this opinion seems to corrode the very foundational principles of our judicial system. If we adopt the attitude of “if you have the temerity to demand due process, we will count that as a strike against you”, then due process will become the exception rather than the rule.

      Questionable opinion: public defenders make bad judges because they are so used to “minimizing” the defendant’s behavior. If we believe this, we also have to believe a prosecutor will also be a bad judge because they are so used to framing the defendant’s actions in the worst possible light. And, honestly, if a judge is to be biased by past habits, I’d prefer that bias be towards a presumption of innocence, rather than a presumption of guilt.

      The fact remains that we live in a city where over a third of black men have been to jail or prison, and over 10% of black men 18-24 are behind bars on any given day. This is not a problem of “lenient judges” who “don’t care” about safety; we are already approaching the outer limits of what an ostensibly “free” country can accomplish with repressive, enforcement-and-prison-based approaches and still call itself free. The problem is much, much bigger than that. Putting “hanging judges” on the bench is no solution.

  • As a member of the jury when this trial came to court, it wasn’t as cut and dry as described in the article. 4 years is disappointing but given the evidence in the trial, this seems on par.

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