Correction appended: The editorial Suspended Justice, which stated that Daniel Horton pleaded guilty to choking his girlfriend, should have read, “after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor domestic violence charge.” Horton pleaded guilty to domestic violence, not choking his girlfriend.
The editorial also stated that Bernard Robinson Jr. was allowed to keep his position as a co-captain of the men’s basketball team. Robinson was stripped of that position by the Athletic Department.
The editorial also incorrectly stated that Horton received a lighter sentence under the Holmes Youthful Trainee Act. His sentence is standard for a first-time offense.
In what appears to be a growing pattern with student-athletes at the University, Daniel Horton, the star basketball player, was sentenced last week to two years of probation and a year of counseling after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor domestic violence charge for choking his girlfriend. In response to Horton’s guilty plea, the University’s Athletic Department suspended him for the remainder of the season, which ended last weekend with Michigan’s loss to Northwestern. Not surprisingly, Horton’s attorney Gerald K. Evelyn fired a last salvo, not only claiming that Horton did not receive due process in his suspension, but also implying he is paying for the program’s prior failure to discipline Bernard Robinson Jr. in a similar incident last year.
Although last year’s mistake may have aided in motivating Horton’s suspension, the insinuation that Horton’s suspension is solely reactionary is unfounded — the fact that Horton was arraigned for a violent crime should serve as sufficient justification for his suspension. By immediately suspending Horton, the Athletic Department upheld the integrity of the University by demonstrating its intolerance for such behavior among its athletes. Sadly, recent history has shown that Horton’s case is not unique — the Athletic Department will likely deal with similar situations concerning its athletes in coming years, and in the future it should act in a case-by-case basis, with greater transparency for the process and actors involved in suspension decisions.
By initiating its own punitive measures, the Athletic Department has upheld its responsibility for educating and disciplining its student-athletes. Although the Athletic Department failed in 2003 when it did not suspend Bernard Robinson Jr. — allowing him to keep his position as co-captain after he was found guilty of two counts of misdemeanor assault and battery — the department acted well within its power in suspending Horton.
While the Athletic Department acted fairly in disciplining Horton, unfortunately the judicial system has not adopted more stringent measures in sentencing violent crimes. Although his sentence seems light considering that he choked his girlfriend — this sentence is typical for first-time offenders. Furthermore, because Horton is not yet 21 years old, he qualified for sentencing under the Holmes Youthful Trainee Act. The act reduces the severity of his sentence and permits the misdemeanor to be removed from his record after completing his probation.
Yet had Horton been older, he still would have only faced a maximum of 93 days in jail and a $500 fine. A person involved in a bar fight faces the same sentencing guidelines as a person who hits his spouse, according to the Michigan penal code. While the mandatory counseling is an important measure to address the causes of domestic violence, Horton’s sentence does not reflect the severity of his crime and reveals a need for harsher sentencing for domestic violence offenders. Domestic violence is a serious problem affecting thousands of men and women each year, and Horton’s case is just one of nearly 50,000 annual domestic violence offenses in Michigan. It is disturbing that a man can choke his girlfriend, yet his charge will be erased from his record after two years of probation.
Horton’s case demonstrates that the University has started to fulfill its responsibilities in disciplining student-athletes that commit violent crimes. Unfortunately, it also reveals that the judicial system does not currently issue appropriate sentences for domestic violence offenders. At least the University has shown its willingness to undertake austere measures against domestic violence offenders. The judicial system should follow suit.