Sunday, February 20, 2011

My Reaction On Tigh Croff's Sentencing

This past Friday, Tigh Croff was finally sentenced for the offenses of Manslaughter and Felony Firearm by Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Michael Hathaway. The underlying incident - the shooting and subsequent murder of Herbert Silas - occurred on the east-side of Detroit at the end of 2009. In this post, I will share my feedback on his delivered sentence.

Croff, now a 32 year-old east-side Detroit man, was sentenced to three years of probation for the Manslaughter conviction and to two years of actual incarceration for the Felony Firearm conviction.

In my opinion, Croff caught a huge break from the judge as he could have been sentenced up to 15 years for the Manslaughter conviction alone. As it stands, Croff will only serve prison time for the statutorily mandated term of two years for the firearm conviction. Two years behind bars easily beats seventeen years.

If you are carrying a firearm for personal protection, you must both know the law and obey it. If this scenario happens to you, you might not be so lucky.

In Michigan, the Felony Firearm offense is the act of conducting a felonious crime while possessing a firearm. Upon a conviction, it carries a mandatory two year sentence. Thus, the sentencing judge has no discretionary authority on the levied punishment.

In many cases, Prosecutors use the Felony Firearm charge as an inducement for persons, facing other criminal charges, to plead guilty to other charges in exchange for the Felony Firearm charge to be dropped in a plea agreement. The prevailing theory is that a judge's discretion, if situations warrant, can lead to a lenient sentence on the charges that don't have a mandatorily specified punishment. Tigh Croff was not offered such a plea deal.

The Wayne County Prosecutor's Office was not pleased at all that Croff had faced a top charge of only Manslaughter. In fact, they had unsuccessfully first tried to prove that Croff planned to murder Silas in the First Degree (i.e. premeditated) due to no other material fact other than Croff had been issued a Michigan Concealed Pistol License and was legally armed at the time he confronted two burglars - including Silas - at his east-side home. This was an obviously absurd proposition and did not succeed.

The Prosecutor's Office also attempted to make a fall-back case against Croff by alleging that he may have murdered Silas in the Second Degree. That attempt was also thwarted when the Judge Hathaway ruled last August, on the basis of evidence presented at trial, that this case was a "textbook manslaughter" issue.

Croff received a lot of empathy from many Detroit residents in the immediate aftermath of his shooting of Silas. Croff was often portrayed as a victim of several break-ins, at his home during a short-term window of time just before the shooting, who happened to catch the alleged criminals "in the act" when he came home one night.

Many city residents believe that Croff "got caught up in the passion of the moment" when he chased down Silas after a block-long foot-race and shot him once in the chest with a 9mm caliber handgun.

Detroit is a town where many property crimes go uninvestigated and are rarely solved. Thus, it is not difficult to believe that many folks here are reasonably frustrated with both the level of crime present here and the apparent impotence of local law enforcement. So, it's rather easy to see how the argument for Croff's Manslaughter charge was made and ultimately was accepted as reasonable by the judge.

Croff's first trial ended with a hung jury, as half of the panel failed to vote for a conviction. Passions were indeed running high, as evidenced by a statement from the foreman which predicted that Croff would never be convicted if tried again. That opinion was patently wrong, as Croff was convicted in a retry of the case against him.

I do not believe that anyone was surprised at Croff being found guilty of Manslaughter. The only question that was at issue was how many years he would be sentenced. Since the Felony Firearm charge carried a mandatory two year sentence, Croff was guaranteed to get at least that much time. That sentence ultimately would prove to be all the time he would officially receive. He could have gotten a combined sentence of 17 years.

Croff will do two years behind bars. He is fortunate. He could have received a lot more time. He did not obey the law during that encounter and for that he must be punished. In another post on this blog, I theorized that Croff may not have even known the law. Even if that was true, we all know that "ignorance of the law is not an excuse."

What do you think?
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