Judge: Learn English or go to jail

March 27, 2008 7:46:16 AM PDT
An eastern Pennsylvania judge known for creative sentencing has ordered three men to learn English or go to jail.

Luzerne County Judge Peter Paul Olszewski says the three men who were facing prison for criminal conspiracy to commit robbery can remain on parole, if they learn to read and write English, earn their GED and get full-time jobs.

Olszewski noted that the three men, Luis Reyes, Ricardo Dominguez and Rafael Guzman-Mateo, plus a fourth defendant, Kelvin Reyes-Rosario, all needed translators in court when they pleaded guilty Tuesday.

The four, ranging in age from 17 to 22, were in a group that police said accosted two men on a Wilkes-Barre street in May. The two said they were asked if they had marijuana, told to empty their pockets, struck on the head, threatened with a gun and told to stay off the block.

The judge sentenced the four men to jail terms of four to 24 months. But he gave Reyes, Dominguez and Guzman-Mateo, who already had served at least four months, immediate parole. Reyes-Rosario remains imprisoned on an unrelated drug charge.

Attorneys for the men said they were studying the legality of the ruling and had not decided whether to appeal. One of the attorneys, Ferris Webby, acknowledged that the ruling was good for his client, Guzman-Mateo.

"My client is happy," Webby said. "I think it's going to help him."

Olszewski ordered the three to return with their parole officers in a year and take an English test.

"If they don't pass, they're going in for the 24 (months)," he said.

The judge noted that no one objected to the sentences on Tuesday.

If anyone thinks learning English is not a good thing, he said, "I'd love to hear from them."

Olszewski said it would help the men get a GED, and a job.

"Do you think we are going to supply you with a translator all of your life?" he asked them in court.

Olszewski is known for outside-the-box sentencing.

He has ordered young defendants who are school dropouts to finish school. He often orders defendants to get full-time employment. But he also has his staff coordinate with an employment agency to help them find the jobs.

In this case, Olszewski said, "There's no way young kids can be hurt by knowing how to read and write the English language."

Information from: Times Leader, http://www.timesleader.com