The article “Technical Foul” (1/23) was an unfair attempt to criticize Judge Susan Winfield for following and applying the law in her decisions. Trial judges such as Judge Winfield are required, however, to do just that: follow and apply the law in their decisions.
Amanda Ripley opens the article with an unfair appraisal of a decision made by Judge Winfield as to whether there was probable cause to hold Dion Chandler for trial as to manslaughter. Ripley writes that “Winfield insisted that Chandler had not deviated from a reasonable standard of care.” This is simply untrue. Winfield held that in order to hold Chandler for trial on a charge of manslaughter, the government must prove that his conduct was probably “a gross deviation from a reasonable standard of care” and that his conduct was probably such that it “created an extreme risk of death or serious bodily injury.”
Judge Winfield held that the government’s evidence simply did not meet this burden of proof. There are standards that judges must apply in any case to determine probable cause. Judge Winfield applied the proper standard in the Chandler case, and the government simply failed to meet it.
In spite of Judge Winfield’s holding, the government may still present evidence regarding this case to a grand jury, which may return an indictment if, at that time, the government’s evidence convinces 12 members of the grand jury that Chandler is probably guilty. Judge Winfield’s decision is not the last resort for the government. If the government can present evidence to the grand jury to meet the legal requirement for an indictment, the grand jury will return an indictment, and Chandler will be tried.
Ripley cites other examples of Judge Winfield’s “fixation on the
letter of the law,” such as the adoption records case and the unmarried couples’ adoption case. The author seems to be saying that Judge Winfield, and by implication all judges, should make the “right” decision
or reach the “right” result in their cases, without being bound by “the letter of the law.” The problem with such an approach is that there are always, at least, two versions of “right” in any case, the one held
by the plaintiff or government and the one held by the defendant. Rather than being criticized, Judge Winfield should be commended for following the “letter of the law” in some very difficult and emotionally demanding cases.
Superior Court of the District of Columbia