The burden of justice

Cole County Judge, Patricia Joyce, weighs in on the impact sentencing has on her and her community.

Every year thousands of people stand in front of judges in mid-Missouri courtrooms to learn their fate.

After a defendant pleads guilty or is found guilty they face sentencing for the crime.

It's a process that can weigh heavily not only on the criminal but also on the judge.

"Did we lock up the wrong person, did we lock up the right person? Really all the doors, all the paths lead back to the sentencing judge," Judge Gary Oxenhandler said.

Judge Oxenhandler has been on the bench for Boone and Callaway Counties since 2002.

It's a job he finds fascinating and one he takes very seriously.

â??I sort of liken it to if you have a kid and your kid gets in trouble and you need to make a decision as to how you're going to punish them...are you going to not let them out of the house for a month or are you going to take their car away or can they not associate with this friend or that friend,â?? Oxenhandler said. â??It's the same kind of decision making the judges are utilizing except we can lock people up."

Over the last 20-years, defendant after defendant has stood before Cole County Judge Patricia Joyce, including convicted teen murderer Alyssa Bustamante.

"The hardest part of the job is to be able to listen without thinking I've heard this before,â?? Judge Joyce said. â??I think it's very easy to fall back on what your past experience were or not, but I think that's the difficult thing, to come to each case, fresh, ready to hear it and ready to listen and try to decide what is the best way to handle it."

Both judges agreed and said protecting the community is their top priority.

"Protecting the public is the top grab of the bat for any judge,â?? Oxenhandler said. â??We don't want to put anybody at risk."

They've presided over some of the most horrific crimes.

It's a job many would be overwhelmed by.

Judges Joyce and Oxenhandler said it's important to leave their work here at the courthouse at the end of the day.

"I went home, the kids were there, my husband was there, we had things to do,â?? Joyce said. â??We couldn't just be sitting there. I try to exercise and take care of myself."

"One of the things judges have to do is keep in shape, you've got to work out, you have to have ways of relaxing, you've got to be able to sleep at night," Oxenhandler said.

What if they make the wrong sentencing decision?

What if the defendant they gave probation only goes out to commit another crime?

"You can't be worrying about what your decision was later because you have someone else in front of you that needs your decision, needs your energy, needs your commitment to doing what's right," Joyce said.

"Of course we are sensitive to victims, we don't want anyone to get hurt,â?? Oxenhandler said. â??At the same time, if I was constantly bombarded by recollections of mistakes I've made, then I think that I probably wouldn't get out of bed in the morning."

Judge Oxenhandler said the best way to see how the court system works, is by taking a seat in the courtroom and watching first-hand.