Excessive sentence doesn’t serve justice

District Judge Brian Flynn of Mesa County has long had a reputation as a tough-on-crime sentencing judge. Most of the time, his sentences are sensible.

But it’s difficult to see the justification for the 53-year prison sentence that Flynn handed down this week against a first-time offender convicted of defrauding customers through his auto business.

Camden Fortney, age 68, was convicted in April of 21 felony counts involving customers at his Camden Motors business.

According to testimony presented during his jury trial, Fortney regularly purchased salvage vehicles that had been declared totaled by insurance companies, repaired them, obtained “clean” titles to them, then sold them to customers as if they were never wrecked.

Make no mistake about it. What Fortney did was criminal — intentionally misleading customers, paying bribes to insurance adjusters, putting vehicles on the road of questionable safety and reliability. He certainly deserves punishment for those crimes.

That’s why prosecutor Terrence Gillespie with the Colorado Attorney General’s Office, which handled Fortney’s prosecution, asked for a prison sentence of 10 years. Such a sentence would likely mean that Fortney would spend four to five years in prison, Gillespie said. He would also have to pay restitution.

That doesn’t seem unreasonable for a first-time offender who committed nonviolent crimes.

It wasn’t sufficient for Judge Flynn, however. He noted that Fortney’s scheme had continued for a long time and involved numerous victims.

Then Flynn went even further, suggesting that Fortney’s crimes “destroyed confidence in the economy,” making people less likely to purchase a vehicle from a used-car dealer. That claim is difficult for the judge or anyone else to prove, however.

It will be no great surprise if Fortney and his attorneys appeal the sentence that Flynn handed down Tuesday.

Flynn clearly wanted to make an example of Fortney and thereby discourage others from committing similar forms of fraud. That’s a laudable goal.

However, there must be a sense of balance in criminal sentencing — an understanding that there is comparable justice for the sentence one person receives when weighed against the sentences of other criminals.

When people who have committed violent crimes or have multiple previous convictions often receive lesser sentences than the 53 years imposed on Fortney, this week’s sentencing by Flynn appears decidedly out of balance.


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