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JUDGE MOLDS PUNISHMENT TO FIT CRIME

Miguel Lopez drove drunk and careened into another car, killing both parents and crippling two children.

Now, every morning when he wakes up, he sees a photograph of the family he destroyed, their fixed smiles greeting him from the plexiglass case on his cell wall.It's part of his punishment.

Texas Judge Ted Poe imposed the punishment. But he prefers to call it "poetic justice," tailoring the punishment to fit the crime.

He also calls it common sense. Which is why he is a little baffled that his unique sentences have garnered such attention.

Poe was the keynote speaker at the Eighth Annual Victim's Conference held Wednesday and Thursday at the Utah State Capitol.

He recounted some of the unusual sentences he has imposed, hoping to ease a victim's loss and instill responsibility in the offender.

"It's forced responsibility. But it's responsibility," he said.

For troubled teens, he often orders boot camp, counting on the rigor to instill a discipline their families couldn't instill.

"I think boot camps are great," he said. Texas only offers boot-camps as a sentence for those under 26 who have committed their first, nonviolent crime. It doesn't work for hardened offenders, he said.

For many of the men who come before him to be sentenced, he also imposes child support. And once, marriage. If a man has fathered a child out of wedlock, Poe orders him to legitimize the child with marriage if the mother wishes it.

"Usually, they prefer the child support," he said. But one woman wanted the man to marry her. Poe ordered the marriage.

It's all about accepting responsibility for one's actions, he said. "There is a philosophy permeating society that says people aren't responsible for the choices they make. I think that's wrong. People are responsible for what they do. It's not society's fault. It's not their family's fault. It's their fault."

He fosters self-esteem by imposing probationary requirements tailored to a defendant's talent, including requirements that a defendant finish his education. A school teacher convicted of theft is teaching inmates to read; a hair stylist is cutting hair at the school for the deaf and the blind; a chef cooks at a homeless shelter.

When Poe puts someone on probation, he imposes a mandatory 20 hours of community service a month, two and a half days of giving to others.

Poe has three goals for each defendant: Get right with the victim first, "whatever that takes;" then get right with themselves; then give to the community.

"If it didn't work, I wouldn't do it."