Saturday, September 7, 2013
If there’s one thing Americans love, other than the troubled-restaurant-turnaround stylings of Gordon Ramsay, it’s judges who impose “stunt” sentences on defendants. These sorts of stories crop up a couple of times per year, and they always seem to make the “lighter side” segment on the 10:00 news. The most recent example of this comes from Cleveland, where Judge Pinkey Carr sentenced a man named Richard Dameron, who threatened a police officer, to stand outside a police station wearing a sign that read “I apologize to Officer Simone and all police officers for being an idiot calling 911 threatening to kill you. I'm sorry and it will never happen again.” To give the sentence a personal touch, the judge hand-lettered the sign herself. . . .
Theatrical, cornpone deviations from this standard undermine the judicial system. A sentencing hearing becomes less about the state passing judgment on a convicted criminal than an individual judge imposing her standards of right and wrong. Our criminal justice system might not work very well. But it ought to be fixed in the legislatures, not on an ad hoc basis by grandstanding judges who act as though they won their robes in a raffle. Public shaming is better suited for courtroom reality shows, which, indeed, is where one of stunt sentencing’s most famous practitioners—Judge Joe Brown—ended up. If that’s where Judge Pinkey Carr is bound, then I wish her well, and I hope she gets there soon, because her brand of homespun, alternative justice has no business in a real courtroom.