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A sentence of 100 years in prison was handed down for mentally disabled Texas teen Aaron Hart after he pleaded guilty in his sexual abuse case. The case has raised some serious questions not only about the length of the sentence, but as to whether a viable alternative was available, too.
The AP provided background on the story as follows:
"Aaron Hart, 18, of Paris, was arrested and charged after a neighbor found him fondling her stepson in September. The teen pleaded guilty to five counts, including aggravated sexual assault and indecency by contact, and a jury decided his punishment."
Sex offenses against children are amongst the most heavily punished crimes in the books, generally speaking, but even the jury in this case apparently didn't expect what was eventually handed down to Hart. Jurors indicated that "they sent the judge notes during deliberations in February, asking about alternatives to prison, but didn't get a clear answer. They believed the judge would order concurrent sentences, jurors said."
Concurrent sentences are not uncommon in cases involving multiple, similar or related offenses (the precise circumstances of Hart's offenses are not clear from the story). A defendant who is found guilty of multiple offenses gets a sentence on each count. However, when such sentences are run concurrently, a person's time in jail or prison gets applied to each count at the same time. In other words, the sentences don't stack up on top of each other, unlike consecutive sentences.
Despite the jury's reported expectations, however, this isn't what happened in Hart's case. His sentences on five counts (two 5 year terms, plus three 30-year terms) were stacked, one on top of the other, to add up to 100 years. The judge, the AP reported, said "neither he nor jurors liked the idea of prison for Hart but they felt there was no other option" and "[i]n the state of Texas, there isn't a whole lot you can do with somebody like him."
A District Attorney's charging decision also enters into this equation, because the number of charges brought (even for single or similar incidents) can directly impact the eventual sentence if it isn't run concurrently. The District Attorney in Hart's case, Gary Young, said that although he "sympathized with Hart's situation", he "hope[s] people will remember he committed a violent sexual crime against a little boy". Hart plans to appeal.