The argument for and against vaccine requirements rages across the United States. Now, one Ohio judge has raised legal and ethical questions with a controversial ruling.

Judge Christopher Wagner ordered Brandon Rutherford, 21, to get the COVID vaccine as part of his probation. He first asked Rutherford, who was being sentenced for possessing fentanyl, why he was in court with a mask on. He went on to ask if Rutherford had gotten vaccinated.

When Rutherford answered no, Judge Wagner added vaccination to Rutherford’s parole requirements. Rutherford must show proof that he’s received the COVID vaccine to the parole office.

Outrage and Controversy

The decision caused immediate controversy in the Cincinnati area. As news of the ruling spread, so too did outrage.


Despite the outrage, Wagner stands by his ruling. Judges have the power to order rehab and counseling, he argued. That means they also have the right to issue a vaccine mandate. It’s his duty, Wagner said, to “protect the community.”

While this might seem like a small local issue, the legal implications could ripple across the country. It raises a plethora of questions. So those caught in the legal system give up their right to body autonomy? Even when they’re out of prison? Should judges be able to strip away a person’s right to choose which medical procedures they undergo?

More and more companies and states are issuing vaccine mandates. That means these questions will only grow in importance.


Rutherford claims that he won’t get the COVID vaccine despite facing 18 months in prison for refusing. His lawyer doesn’t believe the judge has the authority to order vaccinations. It’s a legal issue, he said, that they plan to address.