In separate orders issued last week, Camacho found that the proposed plea agreement entered by Hey Jeun Sim and Li Bo Chen provides insufficient penalty to discourage them from doing it again.
The Office of the Attorney General had charged Sim and Chen with selling alcohol to a minor and selling alcohol to a person without an I.D. The two agreed to plead guilty to the first charge as part of a plea agreement.
Under the deal, Sim and Chen would be sentenced to three days in jail, all suspended. They will then be subject to six months probation, a $100 fine, payment of all court costs and probation fees, 10 hours of community service, and a letter to the court explaining how selling alcohol to minors is harmful.
Assistant attorney general Darren Robinson said the defendants have no previous criminal history.
Robinson also disclosed that although the defendants sold alcohol to a person under the age of 21, that person appeared much older and had a beard.
But according to Camacho, the proposed sentence of three days, all suspended, has virtually no deterrence value because the defendants will serve no jail time.
“The Legislature contemplated a maximum of three months imprisonment for each violation, evincing the seriousness with which the CNMI community takes selling alcohol to minors,” Camacho noted.
The judge also described the proposed fine as “paltry” and that it irritates him because it enables businesses to simply pay their way out.
“This is not an effective deterrent. Indeed, a penalty roughly equal to the price of a few cases of beer would be encouraging the illegal activity because the penalty can be recuperated quickly,” he said.
Many law-abiding businesses, the judge said, are consequently at an economic disadvantage because of the difficulty competing against businesses illegally selling alcohol to minors.
“Thus, the court is concerned that all businesses operate on a level playing field,” he said.
Writing a letter, Camacho said, is hardly rehabilitative. “It is akin to an apology letter ordered by the court, both of which carry little weight with this court,” he said.
There were about 20 or so cases filed resulting from the government’s undercover operations in the past few months against stores selling alcoholic beverages to minors. Except for Camacho, other judges accepted the same plea agreement offered to other defendants.
By Ferdie de la Torre