THE COUNSELOR=S CORNER
It looks like Hester Prynne is alive and well. You remember Ms. Prynne, the adulteress main character from AThe Scarlet Letter.@ Ms. Prynne made the mistake of engaging in an affair with the local minister and her punishment was to have to wear the letter AA@ on her dress.
The male version of this is the story of Shawn Gementera. Mr. Gementera was convicted of purloining some mail and he was sentenced to two months in jail and eight hours of walking back and forth in front of a post office wearing a sign with AI stole mail@ emblazoned on it. This, by the way, was an improvement from Mr. Gementera=s original sentence. The sentencing judge, Vaughn Walker initially required Mr. Gementera to walk with his sign for a cool one hundred hours. The judge acknowledged that this would be humiliating and he indicated that was his goal. After Mr. Gementera=s attorney suggested alternative sentences, Judge Walker reduced this part of the sentence to one eight hour day. Last week the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals voted 2 to 1 to uphold this sentence. I stand with the one judge, Michael Hawkins who, in his dissenting opinion, stated that shame or humiliation should not be part of our justice system. I think he is right. Judge Hawkins referred to the three key goals when considering a sentence, protection of the public, deterrence, and rehabilitation. Judge Hawkins concluded that forcing Mr. Gementera to parade around wearing a sign would not accomplish any of these goals. Judge Hawkins further indicated that nothing more than the humiliation of Mr. Gementera would be accomplished by this sentence.
This is not the first time a judge has attempted a sentence of this type. One that did not pass muster was that of a convicted shoplifter who had stolen beer and was required to wear a t-shirt that read AMy record + two six packs = 4 years.@ This proposed sentence was put forth more than ten years ago and was overturned on appeal. On the other end of the spectrum, in New York, an individual convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol was sentenced to obtain a vanity license plate stating AConvicted D.W.I.@ This sentence was upheld.
Perhaps the most colorful of all was a case in California approximately 30 years ago in which a judge required a purse thief to wear shoes with taps on them such as are worn by a tap dancer. This judge wanted to make sure that the thief would no longer be able to approach potential victims quietly.
Both the good and the bad news for Mr. Gementera is that he will not have to wear the embarrassing sign anytime soon. While this case was pending, Mr. Gementera stole some more mail and was sentence to two years in state prison. If the initial sentence is not overturned, he will have to conduct his own private eight hour parade when he gets out.
Based on the second offense and conviction, Mr. Gementera does not appear to be a pillar of society. That being said, however, put him in jail, have him do community service, or have him pay a fine. I don=t think it is becoming for the judiciary to impose humiliating sentences. There is no need to get fancy. This case should not be up on appeal now, taking the time and resources of our judiciary. This case should have been over and done. This is a monumental waste of time because of a judge who wanted to do things in an unconventional fashion. It doesn=t make any sense to me.