Nick Bollea: a judicial tapout

A judge in Clearwater, Florida has sentenced the 17-year-old son of pro wrestler Hulk Hogan to eight months in jail for reckless driving. He will also be on five years’ probation and lose his driving privileges for three years.

Authorities say Bollea was racing a friend in his father’s sports car when he clipped a curb, spun out of control and slammed into a palm tree in downtown Clearwater, Florida, in August.

Bollea pleaded no contest to the reckless driving charge. The verdict was announced Friday, and Bollea was led off to begin his sentence immediately after Friday’s ruling.

This is the first time this young man has been charged with a felony. His driving record is not “bad” by any stretch of the imagination; I have seen traffic violators with page after page of DUIs, suspended license charges, unpaid tickets, and the like. Bollea only had a few citations, mostly for speeding.

Bollea has apparently been upset and remorseful for the accident. It is his best friend that is now permanently brain damaged, a fact that he will live with for the rest of his life. Bollea is not a callous, uncaring individual, so obviously the accident itself will have a tremendous impact on him – for the good. No one would think that he’s going to be street racing again, so the community is pretty safe.

What good is a jail sentence going to do young Nick? Jail is a form of punishment, not rehabilitaion. In fact, the Florida Criminal Punishment Code starts with the statement that punishment is the primary goal of the Code, with rehabilitation a desired, but secondary, goal. So we know that there is no logic to senencing this kid to jail and having it magically change his ways behind the wheel. But, had the judge wanted to, he could have sentenced him to five years in prison for this crime.

From a judicial standpoint, the sentence looks tough. There are those that will say that this judge is a “law and order” judge that is making an example of him. And, as judges are elected officials, that’s good publicity for the robe.

But does the sentence make any sense? If it was bad enough for incarceration, why not throw the book at him and send him to big-boy prison for three to five years? That is punishment. Or, if the goal is rehabilitation, then why send him to the county jail for eight months, where he will get no driving lessons, make no useful speeches about the evils of street racing, and basically just languish doing nothing.

While it appears to be a happy medium, it’s really a judicial tapout (to borrow the term from wrestling – sorry Hootie). The sentence was to be a probation sentence with a suspended driver license. The jail part was thrown in to appease the court-watching voters who may actually remember this case come election time. The idea is that the defense gets what it wants and the kid is on probation, but the State and the people get a little skin off of his nose with a jail sentence. The judicial justificaiton is that hey, he’s young and a few months won’t kill him. (*bLAWgger note: a review of the Florida Division of Elections website indicates that the judge in Bollea’s case is NOT up for election this term.)

But the question is, was it really necessary, or could be be using him on the outside to speak pubically about the case, and use that jail space for a real criminal? Resoundingly, yes.


Author: Joe Bodiford

Tallahassee criminal defense attorney. Florida Bar Board Certified Criminal Trial Lawyer, Nationally Board Certified in Criminal Trial Advocacy, and AV* rated by Martindale-Hubbell. Former adjunct professor of law and co-director of the Trial Team at Florida State University College of Law; former adjunct professor of law at Stetson University College of Law (Florida criminal procedure, Trial Advocacy). Curator of Advocacy Underground. Practicing in the area of State and Federal Criminal Trial and Appeals. Visit us at!

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