We have previously written about creative and unusual punishments handed down by judges, including Judge Michael Cicconetti who forced shoplifters to wear signs in front of the businesses they stole from.
Cicconetti is well known for his unconventional sentences. In one case, he gave 20-year-old Diamond Gaston the choice between being pepper sprayed or 30 days in prison after she pleaded guilty to assault charges for spraying a man with mace at a Burger King fast food outlet.
In another case, he gave 18-year-old Victoria Bascom the option of either walking 30 miles in 48 hours and paying a $100 fine, or 60 days in prison, after she failed to pay for a 30 mile taxi ride. She opted for the walk and fine.
Cicconetti believes that naming and shaming offenders is more effective than conventional sentencing options. He claims that over 90% of offenders that he punishes in that way never come back before the courts.
These kinds of penalties came under challenge a decade ago in the US, after a young man by the name of Shawn Gementera was charged with stealing from a post office. The judge in that case ordered Gementera to stand outside the post office wearing a sign stating, “I stole mail. This is my punishment.”
Gementera appealed the sentence, saying it violated the US Constitution’s prohibition on “cruel and unusual punishments.” His appeal was rejected when the court found that although the punishment was unusual, it was not cruel.
Since then, judges in the US have handed down a whole host of other unusual penalties.
However, there are concerns that publicly shaming, humiliating and scaring people can have serious psychological and social consequences, and may in fact hinder rehabilitation – especially when it comes to young offenders.
And despite Judge Cicconetti’s claims, there is no actual evidence that naming and shaming reduces the prospects of reoffending.
There are also concerns that such punishments allow judges to impose their own moral and religious beliefs on members of the community, when courts are supposed to be objective. For example, Judge Michael Caperton from the state of Kentucky sentenced drug and alcohol offenders to 10 church services rather than the usual, and perhaps more appropriate, penalty of mandatory counselling and monitoring.
And Justice Vinayagam from India made one politician, who engaged in intimidation, read a book about Ghandi. The politician was granted bail as long as he agreed to spend four days in a library reading the book, which the judge said would assist with him to appreciate his duties as a legislator.
There are additional concerns that ‘creative’ punishments result in inconsistent sentences – with some offenders being sent to prison while others are allowed to choose a ‘softer’ penalty. For example, some domestic violence offenders in the state of Santa Fe were sent to mediation classes with herbal teas and scented candles, while others received much ‘harsher’ penalties.
Just for Laughs
There are some judges who seem to impose penalties that give them a sense of personal satisfaction – even ‘just for laughs’.
Judge Jeffrey Swartz from Miami Beach is one such judge. Faced with a noise complaint about a man who blasted rap music from his car at 5am, Swartz sentenced the offender to listen to Verdi’s La Traviatta, saying:
“You impose your music on me, and I’m going to impose my music on you.”
And a judge in New Zealand’s Tauranga District Court who was dealing with a 22-year-old-man that yelled “pig slut” from his car window, ordered the offender to spend a day on a pig farm wading around in pig “material”. The man then had to write an essay about the difference between police and pig faeces.
New South Wales
Magistrates and judges in NSW have a certain amount of discretion when it comes to imposing conditions on good behaviour bonds.
Specifically, section 95(c) of the Crimes Sentencing Procedure Act 1999 says that a good behaviour bond:
“may contain such other conditions as are specified in the order by which the bond is imposed, other than conditions requiring the person under bond:
(i) to perform community service work, or
(ii) to make any payment, whether in the nature of a fine, compensation or otherwise.”
Courts are also permitted to attach a wide range of conditions to a defendant’s bail.
However, our courts tend to be a little more conservative when it comes to the types of penalties imposed than judges like Michael Cicconetti in the US.