Two days before Christmas last year, Jesse Lee Herald of Edinburg, Virginia and his 3-year-old son were involved in a vehicle accident. Herald was at the wheel of his 2007 Toyota when it ran off the road and rolled down an embankment. Fortunately, neither Herald nor his son was seriously injured. Instead of waiting for help, Herald grabbed his son and left the scene of the accident – possibly due to the fact that he was driving on a suspended license. He left his son at his home and then ran when state authorities came looking for him. Herald turned himself in a week later.
Herald is no stranger to the law. He has previous convictions that include hit and run driving and possession of illegal drugs, among numerous others. Earlier this month, he pleaded guilty to child endangerment, hit and run driving and driving on a suspended license as a result of leaving the scene of the accident. He was sentenced to 20 months in prison and five years probation, three years of which he will be supervised.
He was also ordered to have a vasectomy.
In addition to the criminal convictions, Herald has been involved in several cases brought up by women who have had a child fathered by him. At 27, Herald is the father of seven (maybe eight) children by (they think) six different women. Upon learning that many children in the commonwealth could be linked to him, the assistant prosecutor offered the condition as part of the plea deal.
“He needs to be able to support the children he already has when he gets out,” said Ilona White, adding that Herald and the state both benefit from the deal.
Even though the deal was signed off by the judge in the Virginia case, it does raise questions of ethics. Besides the fact that the vasectomy requirement has nothing to do with the offenses for which he was charged, it does raise the issue of whether judges have the right to make such invasive decisions, especially when it comes to an individual’s reproductive rights. For some it harkens back to the days of forced sterilization, which overwhelmingly affected the poor, minorities and the mentally ill. The prosecuting attorney, however, vehemently denies any sinister motive against Herald, who is white.
“It was primarily due to the fact he had seven or eight children, all by different women, and we felt it might be in the commonwealth’s interest for that to be part of the plea agreement,” White responded.
Judges ordering men to have vasectomies is rare, though not new. Justices across the country have ordered men, usually extremely delinquent on child support, to have the procedure as a way to curb the strain on the public support system. In May, an Ohio appeals court upheld a judge’s order for a man to have a vasectomy after he was $100,000 behind on child support for his four children. The defendant’s attorney challenged the ruling saying it violated his client’s privacy rights. The appeals court upheld the sentencing – but did not rule on the legal merits of the sentence.
The defense attorney plans to appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court.
Everyone involved in Jesse Lee Herald’s case agrees that the plea agreement is unusual, which calls for him to undergo the procedure within a year and to not reverse it while he is on probation. Herald’s attorney said his client agreed to the deal, albeit reluctantly. He admitted he has never been involved in any kind of deal like this before.