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The Daily Tar Heel

U.S. Magistrate Judge Responds to Editorial About His Practices

The Daily Tar Heel recently editorialized against my practice as a U.S. magistrate judge of not allowing defendants to "live together" while federal charges are pending ("Moral Court" April 10). You describe this practice as "abusing a 19th-century law to enforce morality" and call on the N.C. General Assembly to "toss such legal relics."

If the author of this unsigned editorial saw what I see in court each week, I wonder if he or she would reach the same conclusion. Assuming good faith and an open mind, I hope not.

And what do I see, which led to this "archaic" policy in the first place?

Young men in their 20s with three or four children by different mothers, not working, and supporting none of them. Was your editorialist aware that the struggling single mother, and the unsupported children she is doing the best she can to raise, live below the poverty level more often than not?

It is this prototypical defendant -- not working, not supporting his existing children and now living with still another potential victim of his "hit-and-run sexuality" who appears before me. And remember, folks, they don't show up in federal court because the Moral Police caught them in bed on a Friday night. They are in federal court because they have been charged with serious felonies, many of which carry minimum prison terms of 10 years or more.

In this context, I impose a number of different "conditions of release," among them: full-time employment, paying child support, drug testing and treatment (if necessary), having no contact with victims, witnesses, or anyone involved in criminal activity and yes, a suitable living arrangement.

Contrary to your sharp-tongued editorial, I do not recall a single defendant who has remained in jail because of this policy. Instead, they either live with a mother, grandmother, or other responsible family member -- which is itself often a good move in the "clean-up-your-act" direction -- or they choose to get married.

You might be surprised to learn that many of the defendants who choose to get married come back -- voluntarily -- to thank me, to say how happy they are to have "done the right thing" and even to share wedding pictures. I have had defendants laugh and say things like, "Man, that's a life sentence!" But I have never forced anyone to marry, nor do I ever recall anyone who has chosen marriage -- sometimes after living together for years -- expressing even the slightest regret.

Although I hate to take the wind out of your editorial writer's zealous sail, this is just not the stuff repression or oppression is made of. This is good fruit borne of sound moral values that have stood the test of time.

These are policies that offer those who are "on the wrong track" in many ways a brighter, more hopeful future.

And that, my friends in the nation's oldest public university community, is something about which liberals and conservatives ought to agree. Even, I dare suggest, authors of unsigned editorials in The Daily Tar Heel.

Carl Horn III
Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge

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