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This black caped hero isn’t Batman: US judge a hit for his compassionate verdicts

Judge Frank Caprio, who presides over a municipal court in Providence, Rhode Island, has become a viral sensation after videos of him doling out fair, empathetic verdicts and giving defendants a chance to explain their conduct started to go viral.

world Updated: Oct 19, 2017 14:54 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Caught in Providence,Judge Frank Caprio,US judge
A screenshot of Frank Caprio, the American judge winning hearts with his verdicts.

Courtrooms can be grim spaces, but one American judge is doing his bit to bring compassion and humour to his judgments.

Judge Frank Caprio, who presides over a municipal court in Providence, Rhode Island, has become a viral sensation after videos of him doling out fair, empathetic verdicts and giving defendants a chance to explain their conduct started to go viral.

“I don’t wear a badge under my robe. I wear a heart under my robe,” Caprio told Associated Press in an interview earlier this year.

Caprio, 81, is almost like a kindly grandfather in court. He is the Chief Judge of Providence and has been reappointed six times by the city council. Most cases he hears deal with traffic infractions, parking tickets or criminal arraignments.

The judge is the star of his own TV show, Caught in Providence, which telecasts clips from court proceedings. But it is unlike any courtroom drama you have seen on television.

In one instance, Caprio waived off the parking ticket penalties for Andrea Rogers, a grieving mother, who broke down in court talking of her son’s murder and the trauma that followed. Rogers told the court she had no money to pay the $400 fine, since her son’s death was followed by a tough year, where her social security cheque was diverted to pay off his debts and she was evicted by her landlord.

Caprio heard Rogers out in silence, and then decided to dismiss the case, wishing her best in life. The video has been watched more than 703k times.

Caprio’s mixture of kindliness and fairness have won him a solid fan base. On Caught in Providence’s Facebook page, a commentator says, “This judge give (sic) people a change to believe in the institution…I’ve been in tears several times by watching the way he is looking into every individual situation and judging accordingly. We should believe in the best in people, NOT the worst.”

In another instance, the judge let off a man who was recovering from surgery after brain cancer, where a portion of his skull was removed. Jose Barrientos, 40, walked into court wearing a helmet, and told the judge he was given a parking ticket the moment he stepped out of the hospital.

In an interview to the Daily Mail, Caprio summed up his approach. “If I think there are certain circumstances in an individual’s life or it’s a close call, I give them the benefit of the doubt. I don’t subscribe to the theory that because you were charged you must be guilty.’

Apart from being known for his kindliness and generosity, Caprio has a sense of humour. He often engages in banter with his trusty sidekick, Inspector Quinn. But some of Caught in Providence’s funniest episodes are when Caprio enlists the help of the defendants’ children in giving out a sentence.

In one of the cases, Caprio invites a seven-year-old boy to help him decide if he should charge his father $90, $30 or nothing for a parking violation. The little boy goes with $30, which the judge later waives off on one condition: his father has to treat the kid to pancakes for breakfast. The clip went viral, raking in thousands of views.

It was the judge’s wife, Joyce and his brother, Joseph Caprio, who thought of filming the court proceedings and sharing them with the world. Joseph is the executive producer of the show. Of course, as Caprio’s popularity has increased, many of Providence’s citizens have figured out they will be on ‘candid camera’ while they are in court. Some take advantage and play to the gallery, like one spunky girl who showed the court a handstand.

Serial offenders are dealt with a firm hand, but one of the reasons behind why people love Caprio is that he seems to be rooting for the people in his court.

Of course, some people slip through the cracks. In a Reddit thread in March this year, the judge was asked if he ever saw a defendant years later. Caprio recounted an incident where he met a serial offender after some time had elapsed.

“An aggressive panhandler appeared before me more than 20 times, and I told him that if he continued I would have no choice but to send him to jail,” the judge wrote. “I did not see him for one year thereafter. One day, I encountered him on a downtown street and he came running up to me, thanking me profusely for changing his life. Happily, I asked him how I changed his life and he replied: “I now take the train to Boston and panhandle outside of South Station and make 3 times more than as I was making in Providence.”

Here are some of Judge Caprio’s judgments to brighten up your day:

A little girl makes a hilarious excuse for her mom running a red light.

‘Guilty’, declares the honest little boy!

The ‘best court experience’ to be had, ‘nuff said.

The judge tries to get people to name their children after him!

First Published: Oct 19, 2017 14:07 IST