Katharine Buker has been prosecuting crimes in Rock County for 38 years. For most of that time, she said, an armed robbery conviction meant prison—no ifs, ands or buts.
But in court Friday, the assistant district attorney asked a judge to give a young armed robber a chance to avoid prison and expunge some of his convictions.
Jaden C. Fair, 18, of 1423 Harvey St., Beloit, is accused of picking up an acquaintance in Janesville with a third man and then robbing the acquaintance at gunpoint. They got $90 in the May 21 incident.
Buker said her recommendation reflected changes going on nationwide in the criminal justice system, including the Rock County Evidence-Based Decision Making Committee.
Buker’s boss, District Attorney David O’Leary, has pushed for reforms on that committee and at the state level, where he has taken a leadership role.
Some of the “evidence” in the effort is data showing that people who are sent to prison, especially those with no criminal records, such as Fair, tend to learn how to be criminals.
But what if people like Fair got a second chance? Society could be spared the costs of a life of crime and imprisonment, and the criminal could have a chance to turn his or her life around and contribute to society.
As part of a plea agreement, Fair pleaded guilty to armed robbery, possession with intent to deliver 200 or fewer grams of marijuana, felony theft and five misdemeanors: possession of drug paraphernalia, disorderly conduct while armed, armed theft, pointing a gun at someone and possession of marijuana.
Buker and defense attorney Barbara Gerber recommended three years of probation, to include six months in jail.
They recommended that the armed robbery charge be held open until Fair completes probation. If he does so without violating the rules, the charge would be dismissed.
Also, the marijuana trafficking and felony theft charges would be expunged—wiped off his record.
The misdemeanor charges would remain on his record and “give fair warning that there has been a very serious incident here,” Buker said.
“He made a terrible choice. I know he feels remorse,” Gerber said.
Gerber said Fair is the father of an infant and is highly motivated to be there for his son.
Fair is enrolled in Community Action’s Fresh Start program, an effort to turn around the lives of young people. His mentor in the program, James Turner, spoke on his behalf, saying he believes Fair will graduate from high school in June.
Fair apologized and asked Judge Karl Hanson to give him the second chance.
Hanson told Fair he is not fully mature but has potential to succeed. He told him other people his age might bend or break the rules as they mature, but he doesn’t have that choice, because if he does, prison awaits him. The armed robbery charge alone carries a maximum of 40 years in prison.
Hanson went along with the recommended sentence with one exception. He imposed four years of probation instead of three.
He also allowed Fair work-release from jail.
“I think this period of probation should be sufficient for you to show the community … that Jaden Fair is something much more than an armed robber,” Hanson said.
Gerber asked that Fair be allowed to delay his jail sentence so he can spend Christmas with his child. Buker opposed that idea, saying it’s important for Fair to see that his actions have consequences.
Hanson agreed, saying Fair must understand how serious it was for him to point a gun at someone. He ordered Fair to report to jail no later than Dec. 6.