On Thursday, May 2, 2024, the Times of San Diego reported that United States District Judge Roger Benitez of the Southern District of California was formally censured by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals for his treatment of a teenage girl during a sentencing hearing in February of last year.

According to documents from the Ninth Circuit Judicial Council, Judge Benitez instructed a deputy United States marshal to handcuff a 13-year-old girl while her father was being sentenced. The girl was present in the courtroom as a spectator. Witnesses stated that Judge Benitez proceeded to question the handcuffed teen about how the restraints felt and lectured her about ending up in jail if she was not careful with drug use.

The Judicial Council found that Judge Benitez’s actions constituted “abusive or harassing behavior” as shackling a spectator who was not disruptive exceeded his lawful authority. They also determined that making a public spectacle of a minor chilled participation in the legal process and impaired confidence in the judiciary.

As a result of the formal censure, Judge Benitez will be barred from presiding over criminal cases, including supervised release violation hearings, for the next three years. Attorneys will also have grounds to request his recusal from such hearings.

Judge Benitez has received national attention for his rulings supporting expansive gun rights interpretations. However, the reprimand focused solely on the inappropriateness of restraining and interrogating the teenage girl in open court. Though he maintained good intentions, the Judicial Council found his actions caused the girl demonstrable harm and damaged trust in the institution.



Source: Times of San Diego