In nearly every respect, the re-sentencing today of Jacquetta Simmons was routine. Matter of fact, perfunctory, even.
Stripped of any discretion in sentencing by the the Appellate Division, Fourth Judicial Department, NYS Supreme Court, when the higher court threw out his previous five-year prison term for Simmons, Judge Robert C. Noonan had little to say in open court before sending Simmons to jail on a one-year term.
The 12-months in county lock-up, likely to be reduced to eight months on good time, was prescribed by the appellate division, which rendered mute in court both of the normally loquacious attorneys for the people and the defense, District Attorney Lawrence Friedman and Buffalo-based private attorney Earl Key.
"The sentence imposed by me previously is obviously the sentence I thought appropriate for this case," Noonan said. "The appellate division has the authority to modify the sentence and has done so. As Mr. Friedman noted, I have no discretion to modify their sentence. Therefore, I sentence you to one year in the Genesee County Jail."
Because the local jail cannot house female inmates, Simmons has been transferred to the Allegany County Jail, one of a half-dozen other jails in neighboring counties that take Genesee County's female inmates.
The county will be billed $85 per day to house Simmons in the Allegany jail, meaning if she serves eight months, county taxpayers will pick up as much as a $20,000 tab for her incarceration.
Simmons, 27-years-old at the time of her crime, was convicted by a jury of peers in August of delivering a roundhouse punch to the face of 70-year-old Grace Suozzi, a Walmart cashier, on Christmas Eve 2011, after arguing with Suozzi about producing a receipt for her prior purchases.
Suozzi has not worked and reportedly rarely goes out of the house since the attack.
Defense attorney Key maintained at trial, and in the appeal, that the punch was accidental and that Simmons was merely pulling her arm away from another store employee as she tried to rush from the store.
The appellate division sided with the jury, with one dissenting vote, even as it decided Noonan's sentence rendered in November was too harsh.
Key and co-counsel Anne Nichols said after court that the justices made the right decision in overturning Noonan's original five-year prison term.
Key said Nichols did extensive research and found no case in the State of New York where a first-time offender who was employed and going to college was given such a harsh sentence on a Class D violent felony conviction.
"There's never been a case that we could find, and the District Attorney's Office sure didn't refute what we said in the paperwork, where anybody has ever gotten five years as a first-time offender," Key said.
Friedman did not want to comment following today's hearing. But after the decision was first announced last week, Friedman seemed to question an appeals process that had little regard for local community standards.
"Having gone through this and seeing the impact this had on Mrs. Suozzi, her family, a lot of people in the community who knew her and cared about her -- all of that is something that is lost in the appeal process," Friedman said. "It's one punch, but more than the physical harm is the emotional harm. It really affected her life as far as her ability to return to work and go out and about. She's a very nice lady and this sentence doesn't do her justice."
In overturning the sentence, Nichols said, the appellate division did apply community standards -- the standards of the entire community of the State of New York.
"That depends what community you're talking about," Nichols said.
"Genesee County," a reporter interjected.
"I think it accurately reflects what more diverse communities are in line with," she continued. "If you look across the state, as we did with the appellate division in getting the stay to begin with, it's very unusual for a first-time offender to receive a sentence of five years incarceration. I did the research myself. I looked at DOCS, and I would say that's almost unheard of. The original result was in line with community standards across the state, for sure."
Asked to respond to the notion that the local Genesee County community is offended by a reduced sentence for a person that viciously attacked an elderly woman who's highly regarded here, Key said the sentence should not be based on who the victim is.
"Should decisions be made based on the victim's character and who the victim is?" Key asked. "So somebody who is less popular in the community, or somebody who is less affluent in the community, then the sentence should have been less, and then because Grace is who she is, then the sentence should be harsher? That's absurd."
Nichols said all of the negative comments about Simmons during the course of this case have come from people who don't even know Simmons.
"Nobody has taken into account what we've been trying to get across from the beginning is that Jacquetta Simmons had absolutely no criminal history," Nichols said. "She worked. She wasn't on public assistance. She had no CPS cases. She is not what everybody in this community has painted her out to be in many comment sections and from the many people I've heard talking in the streets. They don't know who Jacquetta Simmons is and quite frankly they don't care to know who she is."
After the hearing, Simmons was led by a deputy from the court room (top photo) and toward a probable eight months in jail, but outside of court Key made clear the case is not over.
Noonan has awarded more than $2,000 in restitution be paid to Grace Suozzi. Today, Noonan ordered that Simmons begin paying the restitution at a rate of $100 per month beginning in 30 days.
Key said he's going to appeal Noonan's restitution ruling.
"She has to pay restitution for things like high blood-pressure medication and things of that nature," Key said. "For a woman who admittedly never went to the doctor for years prior, one of our arguments is you don't know if she had high-blood pressure before this incident. She wasn't seen by a medical professional, so we definitely plan to appeal the restitution."
The Batavian first broke the story of the Simmons case in 2011. For a complete archive of our coverage, click here.