Last week, a judge in Ohio ordered a man sentenced for a drug conviction to take the COVID-19 vaccine as part of his probation or face up to 18 months in prison.
During the sentencing hearing for Brandon Rutherford, 21, Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Christopher Wagner ordered Rutherford to get the vaccine and provide proof of the inoculation, WCPO reported on Aug. 5.
“He asked me, was I vaccined?” Rutherford said. “I told him no. And he asked me if I planned to get vaccined, and I told him no.”
“I don’t plan on getting it. I don’t want it,” Rutherford said. “So, for him to tell me that I have to get it in order for me to not violate my probation is crazy because I’m just trying to do what I can to get off this as quickly as possible, like finding a job and everything else, but that little thing can set me back.”
Carl Lewis, Rutherford’s attorney, was also taken aback by the judge’s demand, the first of its kind he had heard of in Ohio’s Hamilton County.
“When you hear that, you’re like, ‘Whoa, I don’t think the judges are within their powers to do that,'” Lewis said.
According to the local ABC outlet, the court papers include a question mark next to the vaccine requirement.
“If he truly believes that he’s within authority to order the individual to get a vaccine, then we’ll have a legal issue to address,” Lewis added.
In a transcript of the hearing, the judge remarks that he is “just a judge, not a doctor,” but justified his demand to Rutherford because “the vaccine’s a lot safer than fentanyl, which is what you had in your pocket.”
“You’re going to maintain employment. You’re not going to be around a firearm. I’m going to order you, within the next two months, to get a vaccine and show that to the probation office. Okay?” the judge said according to the transcript, WCPO reported.
Wagner later defended his order in a statement emailed to WCPO.
“The court’s responsibility when issuing a community control sanction is to rehabilitate the defendant and protect the community,” Wagner said in the statement. “Judges make decisions regularly regarding a defendant’s physical and mental health, such as ordering drug, alcohol, and mental health treatment.”
At the hearing, Wagner warned Rutherford that if he violates the conditions of Community Control – including by not taking the vaccine – he will be sent to state prison for up to 18 months.
“It’s not like I’m out here getting into any more trouble or anything like that,” Rutherford said. “But because I don’t take a shot, they can send me to jail. I don’t agree with that.”