Ilhan Omar has leapt to the defence of a 21-year-old man who was imprisoned for oversleeping and missing the first day of his jury service.
Deandre Somerville, from West Palm Beach in Florida, was sentenced to 10 days in jail, 150 hours of community service and handed a $223 (£180) fine for sleeping through his alarm.
The young man, who cares for his elderly grandfather and works in after-school programmes for the West Palm Beach parks and recreation department, was also ordered to pen a “sincere” apology letter.
Ms Omar, a Democrat representative, argued the stringent sanctions imposed on Mr Somerville were symptomatic of a US criminal justice system devised to “criminalise people of colour”.
The Minnesota congresswoman, who is one of the first Muslim women to serve in the US Congress, tweeted: “This judge put a young black man with no prior arrests in the system for *checks notes* oversleeping. We must reform our criminal justice system, which is designed to criminalize people of colour.”
This judge put a young black man with no prior arrests in the system for *checks notes* oversleeping.
We must reform our criminal justice system, which is designed to criminalize people of color. https://t.co/LqKyO4RcXW
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN)
Mr Somerville, who has already served the jail time, was supposed to be on a jury for a negligence case linked to a car accident at the end of August but slept in around two hours longer than he was supposed to.
The young man, who lives with his grandparents and had no previous criminal record, said he did not get in touch with the court due to feeling anxious.
“I woke up and I was like, ‘Oh shoot, it’s past the time’,” he told WPTV.
He added: “After going through that, my life will never be the same again.”
Mr Somerville, who would have been serving on the jury for the first time, said he could only think about his grandfather throughout the ordeal.
"He depends on me, so it’s hard for him," he said.
Judge John Kastrenakes’ order said Mr Somerville’s no-show at the court postponed the trial by 45 minutes.
On Friday, the judge cut the probation to three months and his community service from 150 to 30 hours after the public defender’s office appealed the misdemeanour conviction.
His community service stipulates he has to give a 10-minute talk about why jury service is imperative at the jury office every week.