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Letters to the Editors

Bollenback got the right sentence

© St. Petersburg Times
published September 15, 2002

Editor: Recently, the press has devoted a great deal of attention to the Adam Bollenback case, the main focus of which has been stinging criticism of the purportedly harsh sentence imposed by Circuit Judge Richard "Ric" Howard. The articles thus far have been written from the perspective of Adam Bollenback's mother, who is clearly upset with the reality of a prison sentence for her son.

Although it would appear from the publicity thus far that Judge Howard imposed an extremely harsh sentence upon a 17-year-old young man who suffers from a mental illness, fairness dictates that a full picture of the scenario be considered.

Adam Bollenback's criminal episodes began at the age of 13, and as all other juveniles, he was introduced into the juvenile court system. Initially, he was diverted away from criminal punishment, and given an opportunity to participate in an "intervention" program. Such a program is designed to rehabilitate a juvenile offender and avoid the stigma of a "criminal record."

Adam Bollenback was given two such opportunities. Following this diversion from juvenile court, Bollenback was charged with battery on a school official for striking a teacher, which is a felony offense, as mandated by the Legislature. Still in the juvenile system, he was placed on a probationary term and sentenced to a low-risk juvenile commitment facility.

While awaiting placement in the juvenile commitment facility, he assaulted his mother with a baseball bat. Bollenback's mother called the police, and he was subsequently charged and convicted of another violent felony offense.

As a result, he was again placed into a juvenile facility. This facility was specifically designed to treat mental/emotional and anger related problems. Once again, Bollenback acted out violently and battered a staff member. He remained in this program despite an additional felony charge involving violence.

After completion of the program, he continued to receive assistance and counseling via an aftercare program through the juvenile justice system. Within a short time, Bollenback was once again facing charges, this time for stealing from the school cafeteria. With the advice of his lawyer, Bollenback demanded to be prosecuted as an adult. The case was presented to a jury, where six people from the community of Citrus County found him guilty of the theft. Bollenback was sentenced as an adult based upon his own demand.

Bollenback's most recent charges were burglary of a dwelling, escape, and petty theft stemming from an episode of unlawfully entering the garage of a neighbor's home, stealing beer, and then escaping from the police once he was in custody. The significance of these crimes has been minimized in previous articles, painting the episode as a childish prank.

Despite the characterization from previous articles that Bollenback "walked away from police," it should be noted that he was handcuffed behind his back and seat-belted into the rear of a police car, as are all individuals under arrest. As the police continued their investigation, Bollenback removed his shoes so that he could maneuver the handcuffs to the front of his body, rolled down the window of the police car, crawled out the window and fled. When located by police later that night, in an attempt to conceal the handcuffs, which he still wore, he had pulled his shirt over his shoulders and down his arms, and wrapped the shirt around the handcuffs.

Additionally, trial testimony revealed that he bragged to witnesses about stealing the beer from the neighbor's house but then denied any involvement when questioned by police. Again, a jury composed of members of the community found Bollenback guilty of all charges at trial.

Some issues worthy of discussing are the fact that the Legislature has mandated that the entry of someone's home, including the garage area or any area immediately surrounding the home, constitutes a burglary of a dwelling. A prison sentence is required for such offenses.

Additionally, the law requires that a sentence for the offense of escape must be "consecutive" to any other sentence, which means it must be added onto the sentence for other crimes committed. Of further consideration is the fact that once a juvenile offender has been classified as an adult, whether it is by choice of the offender or by act of the charging authority, that individual must always thereafter be treated as an adult offender.

Judge Howard has been criticized for imposing an adult prison sentence, in lieu of juvenile sanctions on Bollenback. No one has taken into account that the criminal punishment code enacted by the Legislature called for a state prison sentence. When the Legislature enacted the series of laws applicable in this case, they did so for a reason.

Adam Bollenback was represented by a well-known Citrus County lawyer throughout the prosecution of his case. At no time prior to the trial for burglary and escape was the court advised that Bollenback's criminal behavior was a result of a mental problem. No medical records were presented to the court, nor was there a request for a mental evaluation of the offender. At no time did Bollenback behave in a manner which would suggest that he was impaired by any mental abnormality. At his sentencing, Bollenback minimized his prior crimes of violence, and refused to accept responsibility for his criminal behavior.

As a Circuit Court judge, Ric Howard has taken an oath to follow the law, which he did in this case. Furthermore, the sentence imposed was not only realistic, but also foreseeable, in light of Bollenback's prior violent criminal history.

It has been said that the judge was given an opportunity to comment on the Bollenback case, and explain himself, but ironically, the Code of Judicial Ethics prevents such comments or discussion by the judge. The result has been a one-sided view of Adam Bollenback's situation and criminal past.

Florida Statute 921.002(1)(b) states, "The primary purpose of sentencing is to punish the offender. Rehabilitation is a desired goal of the criminal justice system but is subordinate to the goal of punishment." Judge Howard punished Adam Bollenback, just as he is required to do by law. He now faces criticism for performing his job.

If the citizens of Citrus County had an opportunity to see an overview of Judge Howard's tenure on the circuit court bench, they would see a dedicated, professional and extremely fair judge. A judge who balances punishment with compassion.

Circuit Court is open to the public. The citizens of Citrus County should avail themselves of the opportunity to see for themselves how Judge Howard conducts himself in court.
-- Lisa Herndon, Supervising Attorney, Citrus County State Attorney's Office

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