An Alabama drug legalization advocate is calling into question the 2008 drug possession sentence of a man who happens to be the son of a Clay County judge.
John Alexander Rochester, 23, of Ashland, was arrested March 1, 2008, in Ashland City Park. Rochester, who was 21 at the time, and a 19-year-old man were taken into custody, police said, after they were found to be in possession of large amounts of powdered and crack cocaine, marijuana, ecstasy pills and other drug paraphernalia.
The police report said Rochester claimed ownership of the drugs at the time of his arrest, telling the arresting officer the prices he charged for various quantities of each drug.
Rochester, the son of Clay County Circuit Judge John E. Rochester, was released on bond after serving two and a half weeks in jail.
Rochester’s case was sent to a grand jury hearing in March 2008. According to court documents, the grand jury returned an indictment charging Rochester with possession of a controlled substance, possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Rochester pleaded guilty to all three counts on April 17, 2008. Sentencing was overseen by retired Talladega County Circuit Judge Jerry L. Fielding.
Rochester was given a suspended five-year jail sentence, five years probation, a $5,600 fine and was ordered to complete a drug rehabilitation program in Mississippi.
Loretta Nall, a drug legalization advocate and 2006 Libertarian Party candidate for governor of Alabama, said she thinks Rochester was given a lighter sentence because his father is a judge.
“If you look at other cases in Clay County with drugs, it doesn’t make a lot of sense that the grand jury would come back with this,” she said. “I expect the judicial system to be fair.”
A criminal law expert, however, said the case likely was given to a grand jury and a judge from a neighboring county in an effort to ensure fairness.
“When you have someone prominent like this, you always have a question of whether or not this was given something special,” said Floyd Feeney, law professor at the University of California, Davis. “But once you get to sentencing, because there is a lot of transparency to that, the fact that you have a judge from another county (presiding) provides some assurance that this is being handled in an even-handed manner.”
Feeney said sentencing in drug offenses sometimes varies from case to case because of the intent behind sentencing.
“Sentencing has a number of different goals. One goal is to deter this individual from committing new drug offenses,” Feeney said. “Even though there are a lot of drugs involved here, what you’d like to do is to get this person into a successful, productive life.”
Nall said she was surprised by the sentence because “Judge Rochester has been notorious for harsh sentences.”
“I’ve seen so many people go to prison under him, and suddenly jail is not good enough for his son,” she said.
Reached by phone Friday, theyoungerRochesterdeclined to comment. Attempts to reach Judge Rochester were unsuccessful.
Contact Staff writer Whit McGee 256-235-3561
Thanks to the Anniston Star for covering this story. I have been trying for over a year to get them to cover what the Clay Times Journal would not. Granted they could have gone into a great deal more detail...but it's a start.
A couple of things that need to be corrected in this article are that the indictment wasn't handed down in this case until March of 2009...not 2008 and the Grand Jury that returned the indictment was a Clay County Grand Jury and not a Talladega Grand jury, according to the case file that I have. And I must say that a Clay County Grand Jury would indict a ham sandwich, so it is shocking that they reduced the charges Alex Rochester was facing before returning the indictment. Anyone else caught with that many drugs in the Ashland City Park, of all places, would have been recommended for the death penalty. I can just hear D.A. Freddy Thompson saying, "He was dealing drugs at the park where our children play. What if he had dropped some Extacy and some kid had picked it up and eaten it and then died?" Anyone but Rochester's kid would have received a very long prison sentence for this crime. Anyone else would have been called a kingpin and the trumpets would be blaring that the law got another drug dealer targeting kids at the park off the street.
I also find it utterly outrageous that this reporter had to go all the way to California to find and 'expert' on the criminal justice system in Alabama. Is there anyone who could possibly know less about how fucked up things are here than a law professor from completely across the country? Were there no law or criminal justice experts at the University of Alabama or Jacksonville State that he could have called? While the law professor is correct that the goal of sentencing is to deter a repeat offense and the hope is that the offender will begin to lead a successful, productive life, most people arrested in Alabama for that amount of drugs, who aren't related to a judge, are never offered the chance at a successful, productive life because they are sent to rot for decades in an Alabama prison. I challenge anyone reading this to find me one case in either Clay County or Talladega County Alabama where the accused was found with 1100 Extacy pills, 32 grams of cocaine, prescription drugs (usually folks caught with prescription drugs are charged for each pill they possess without a prescription) and a gallon bag of marijuana that was given a bond low enough to where they could get out. I'd also like to see a case where someone charged with trafficking was allowed to go to treatment. Traffickers aren't even eligible for drug court in Alabama.
I wish this article had gone into more detail about the amount of drugs Alex Rochester was caught with. Overall it's a start.