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Elder abuse is a serious concern but stolen wedding bands don't necessarily constitute abuse, do they?
Abuse or no, Ashley Michelle Sweeney was found guilty of stealing wedding rings belonging to her elderly patients. She worked as a nursing aide in a state nursing home for veterans in Virginia. The 24-year-old was convicted on Tuesday.
During the sentencing part of trial, Sweeney took the stand to defend herself. She didn't try convincing the judge that her actions were justified but she did want to tell her story.
Sweeney told the judge she didn't steal out of meanness or lack of care for her patients. She stole to feed her drug habit and pawned the rings for cash, reports The Roanoke Times.
That's certainly not an excuse for her behavior but her sad story may have influenced the judge. Sweeney was sentenced to 24 years in prison but the judge suspended all but 5 of those years.
Sentencing comes after the trial is concluded and the judge can consider evidence from both sides on the potential length of the punishment. Among the things the judge will consider are the defendant's remorse, the seriousness of the crime, and the potential the defendant will reoffend.
A suspended sentence allows the judge to give a relatively short punishment that sometimes includes a contingency for a longer sentence if the defendant acts poorly in prison.
If the suspended sentence could later be reinstated then it's considered conditional. The defendant must meet the requirements of suspension or face a longer sentence. In an unconditional suspended sentence the defendant receives a shorter punishment with no strings attached.
While they are still guilty they are not required to serve out the typical sentence for that crime.
In some instances a suspended sentence can also be a way to circumvent mandatory sentencing schemes. While mandatory sentencing laws are often useful to ensure uniform enforcement of law, in some cases they require a harsher punishment than is appropriate.
Judges can use a suspended sentences to shorten a mandatory minimum sentence unless state law says otherwise.
It's unclear whether Sweeney's suspended sentence is conditional but the judge did put in some future requirements for after Sweeney is out of prison. She is prohibited from working as a nurse or a nurse's aide in the future.