Things That Matter

A Twenty-One Year Old Man Overslept On His First Day Of Jury Duty And Now He’s Being Sentenced To Jail And Has A Record

These days, it doesn’t take much poking around to know that our country’s judicial system is problematic, troublesome and inherently racist. A few months ago, when news broke out about the college admissions scandals, those following the news knew well that the wealthy parents who took part in the scam would walk away essentially scot-free. They weren’t wrong. 

Earlier last month, on September 13th, actress Felicity Huffman, one of the most recognizable names caught up in the admissions scandal, was sentenced to just 14 days in federal prison for her involvement in a case that saw her charged for conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud. Huffman’s case highlighted questions of inequity in our judicial system. Many were quick to point out that Huffman, like the other three dozen parents involved, were from extreme wealth and would undoubtedly be treated differently from poor or nonwhite defendants accused of admission and education fraud. For severe charges that were lobbed at white-collar crime convicts like former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling and took education opportunities away from students far less privileged than her own kids, Huffman received 14 days in jail. 

Twenty-one-year-old Deandre Somerville should have been so lucky. 

The Florida man from West Palm Beach was sentenced to 10 days in jail this past week after a judge found him in criminal contempt of court after he overslept and missed the start of a trial he had been selected to serve jury duty for. At the time, Somerville looked up the repercussions online and according to NBC News said that he “didn’t really see too much there. … [It looked like] nobody actually ever really went to jail for it.”  Because of this, he did not notify the court or its jury office.

Deandre Somerville was sentenced to 10 days in jail, one year of probation and 150 hours of community service for failing to show up for jury duty.

The 21-year-old was also told to write a letter of apology to the court and pay $223 to cover court costs. Speaking about his own sentence, Somerville told NBC that he felt as if he “didn’t need any rehabilitation… I just made a mistake.”

According to Somerville, his 10 days in jail were “traumatic.” Sommerville who recently moved in with his grandparents to help care for them had never been arrested before now has a criminal record for contempt and spent his 10 days in jail amongst hardened criminals and in fear. 

The judge who gave Somerville his sentencing stemmed from his duty to represent his Black community.

Speaking at Somerville’s formal apology in court, Judge John Kastrenakes, of Fort Lauderdale Florida, said that he wanted to “make an example” out of Somerville to ensure more people do not fail to show up to jury duty. “Mr. Somerville was the only African American on our jury and represented a very important cross-section of our community.”

But people of color have long been used to “make an example,” when privileged nonpeople of color have caused greater harm and damage and gotten off easy. 

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was quick to underline this point in a recent tweet shared with her profile. 

“Mass incarceration is our American reality. It is a system whose logic evolved from the same lineage as Jim Crow, American apartheid, & slavery. To end it, we have to change. That means we need to have a real conversation about decarceration & prison abolition in this country,” she wrote in a retweet of a post shared by comedian Chelsea Handler who also lambasted the judge for his decision. 

AOC’s retweet went onto highlight in a thread the flaws of our judicial system citing a recent experience she had meeting a woman who had been sent to Rikers as a teen.” Yesterday morning I spoke with a woman who was thrown in Rikers as a teenager. Put in solitary confinement for MONTHS, aka torture. Force-fed pills. The conditions were so bad, she too had drank out of toilets. A cage is a cage is a cage. And humans don’t belong in them,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote.

The young Congresswoman’s thread highlights the severe punishments people of color have and continued to endure at the cost of our country’s broken prison and judicial system. Her message is a reminder that the actual point of the prison system is to rehabilitate, not punish those who are incarcerated and sent to jail or prison. 

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