What Is -- and Isn't -- a Violation? HOWARD COUNTY

June 07, 1993

Both James W. Hunter of Howard County and Ronald W. Price of Anne Arundel County await trials, in separate cases, on charges involving sexual abuse of minors. Both men were ordered to restrict their travels before their trials. And both recently violated the terms of those orders.

As a result of his violation, Mr. Hunter will be jailed until his June 28 trial. Mr. Price's violation, however, was deemed a negligible technicality. He can continue to await trial while on home detention.

We believe the judges in both cases made the right decisions, although on the surface they appear to have contradicted one another. Isn't a violation a violation? Why is one man punished for ignoring his court-ordered restrictions, while another man -- facing similar charges -- is not?

For the answers, examine the violations.

Mr. Hunter had been ordered not to leave Maryland before his trial. Yet in March, he went to Virginia for a square-dancing festival, where he danced with young girls. This was a clear flouting of the court order, and startling -- not only because Mr. Hunter left the state but also because he has an admitted attraction to children and still put himself in the position of being around youngsters, even as he awaits trial for sexually abusing minors.

The charges are no less serious against Mr. Price, the former Northeast High School teacher whose proclivity for his female students has been well-documented. Recently, he was allowed to visit his doctor. But on his way home, he stopped at a library to photocopy medical records. A few days later, Mr. Price twice failed to answer his phone, a stipulation of his home detention. He answered a third call a short time later, claiming he was in his basement and never heard the phone ring the first two times.

The judge in the case ruled these were small infractions that didn't require imprisoning Mr. Price prior to his trial. Rightly so, though the judge would be justified to haul in Mr. Price if he further shows himself to take lightly his home arrest.

Yes, these men have been judged to represent public threats, but they differ in the seriousness of their respective violations. Mr. Hunter's was a greater danger, to himself and to others, and more alarming than Mr. Price's library stop and missed phone calls. To recognize such a distinction and then act as the judges did was indeed judicious.

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