Should punishments be "creative"?
July 1, 2002 1:50 PM   Subscribe

Should punishments be "creative"? Judge Michael Cicconett has sentenced a kid with a loud radio to sit quietly in the woods, a man to hang out with a pig, at least one guy to run a race to diminish his jail sentence. Now Judge Michael Cicconetti is back in the news for sentencing a couple to print apologies in the local newspaper for their tryst on a public beach. These are rather inconsequential sentences for very minor crimes, but one might still ask: Does creative sentencing seems intuitively more fair and/or effective, or does it seem to leave justice up to the capriciousness of the judge?
posted by sj (21 comments total)
For the record, the only the only part of the punishments discussed above which bugs me is that this Michael Logar fellow can reduce his sentence based on his athletic performance (according to the article, "15th place, 15 days; 100th place, 100 days, etc.). That seems much more clever than fair.
posted by sj at 1:52 PM on July 1, 2002

Ah, throw jelly at'em, see what they say.

Seriously, though, I think it cuts both ways; our litigous society has created a whole lot of laws, and sometimes the crimes are so petty they deserve petty punishments. On the other hand, it seems wrong to trivialize the judicial system by doling out sentences that amount to social commentary.
posted by me3dia at 1:58 PM on July 1, 2002

i seem to remember something in a rather important document regarding "cruel and unusual punishment"
posted by epoh at 1:58 PM on July 1, 2002

epoh, you highlighted the wrong word. "cruel and unusual punishment." The punishment can be as unusual as you want, it just can't be cruel at the same time.
posted by Apoch at 2:02 PM on July 1, 2002

It has to be cruel and unusual.

I think for minor crimes, silly punishments are fine. Until it happens to me.
posted by insomnyuk at 2:03 PM on July 1, 2002

a man to hang out with a pig

so what? I've been to frat parties where I had to hang out with many pigs -- and I hadn't been convincted of anything
posted by matteo at 2:04 PM on July 1, 2002

i suppose it all depends on your personal definition of cruel and unusual.
posted by epoh at 2:04 PM on July 1, 2002

and sometimes the crimes are so petty they deserve petty punishments

If the crimes are that petty, they should be decriminalized, not treated like a sideshow.

And I think where the emphasis is placed in "cruel and unusual" is a fairly subjective matter, as syntactically "and" can certainly mean "and/or" (a construction probably not available to the authors at the time). Granted, the courts have generally chosen to limit the interpretation to the inclusionary meaning. But that says nothing of the original intent, much less the possible parsings of the phrase.
posted by rushmc at 2:10 PM on July 1, 2002

I'd rather have to explain two people having oral sex on a beach to my six year old than to explain two people shooting each other on television.
posted by Hugh2d2 at 2:20 PM on July 1, 2002

The man running the race had the choice of sentences, as did the kid who had to sit in the woods. (Details are in the respective links).

Sounds like a lot of benefits here: the judge gets the attention he apparently craves, the media gets another "wacky" story to print, the individual(s) involved get to avoid or lessen jail time and get their 15 minutes of fame.
posted by xena at 2:28 PM on July 1, 2002

Don't we in fact usually parse cruel and unusual as "unusually cruel" or "cruelly unusual"? Many cruel punishments are fair, I think. So long as they're banal.

I felt uneasy when I read that the race in which the guilty runner will compete will be televised on CNN and they're flying the judge to New York for the broadcast, but now I'm fine with it. They should just play a mashup of "Don't Be Cruel" and "It's not unusual" over the segment.
posted by sj at 2:38 PM on July 1, 2002

I think that we as a society highly underestimate the power of humiliation in sentencing. Imagine how much more effective (rather than fines or community service) these punishments would be:

For example: You drive drunk, you pick up trash in your hometown on the side of the road wearing a sign that says "Drunk driver."

You get caught for "tagging," you have to wear a sign that says "tagger" while you clean up walls in your home town.

You shoplift, you have to go around to schools and admit you shoplifted and do a presentation on why this is bad.

I think that if people were publically humiliated rather than/in addition to paying fines or doing community service, it might help people think twice about committing the same things again. Of course, this only applies for misdemeanors and not violent crimes. (Although humiliations for those wouldn't be too bad, either, but it would have to be along with "hard time.")

I know-bring on the flames...
posted by aacheson at 2:44 PM on July 1, 2002

You can't embarrass some people.
posted by ColdChef at 2:48 PM on July 1, 2002

Ah for the good ol days of stocks, scarlet letters and drunkard's cloaks.

Because Justice isn't served unless the rest of us can watch.

posted by dejah420 at 3:17 PM on July 1, 2002

aacheson: Perhaps we're also underestimating the true power of guilt. Sentences relying on humiliation often flirt with the "cruel and unusual" epithet, but who can argue with making the guilty feel... guilty.

"As soon as he begins his 4-1/2-year sentence for the drunk-driving death of Britt Barndt and her unborn child, 21-year-old Alfred Cantolina will be required to place flowers at her grave on the 18th of each month. Judge David E. Grines ordered that Cantolina be escorted to the cemetery to lay roses where Barndt and the baby she was to have only a week after the Nov. 18, 2000, accident were laid to rest. The added sentence was a suggestion of the family."

--from an editorial which mentions some other creative sentencing highlights, including another of Judge Cicconetti's exploits and a suggestion for Timothy McVeigh.
posted by sj at 3:30 PM on July 1, 2002

"Does creative sentencing seems intuitively more fair and/or effective, or does it seem to leave justice up to the capriciousness of the judge?"

It would depend on judge, wouldn't it? It seems to me that our judicial system wanting to have generically written laws to cover all shades of eventuality is a failure. Judges should be picked better, but then they should have some discretion to decide what is cruel and what is merely socially unusual behavior and mete out justice accordingly, what is most effective for the situation: to punish, or to embarass.
posted by semmi at 4:22 PM on July 1, 2002

Nice post, sj. I like it when folks actually do a bit of research, so thanks.
posted by mediareport at 4:53 PM on July 1, 2002

The other punishments aside, I thought everyone had the right to be silent at any time they please.

It _must_ be illegal in some way to require someone to write an apology, since it flies in the face of miranda rights, and could be a form of perjury if the couple feels they didn't do anything wrong.
posted by shepd at 6:03 PM on July 1, 2002

As much as these punishments seem "kangaroo court" like to me, I also have been reading a lot about overcrowded prisons and jails. Alternative sentences, for petty crimes, would appear to me to be a good way to take care of that. Especially if the convicted person didn't have the funds for fines instead and didn't do anything severe enough for incarceration.

But adding some community service wouldn't hurt.
posted by Salmonberry at 6:12 PM on July 1, 2002

The trouble with any punishment (and I am not saying that all punishment is unnecessary) is the economics of it. Fines have an effect inverse to income: a $100 speeding fine might be a week's rent and groceries for a poor college student, but a successful neurosurgeon might consider it an unimportant ownership cost for his Ferrari.

On the other hand, jail or community service has an effect directly proportional to income. A week in the soup kitchen serving broth to the homeless is a week for the student, and a week for the doctor, but the doctor loses a lot more money in the process (and incidentally, his patients awaiting surgery are punished as a side effect).

Either time or money as punishment has problems. So a balancing procedure is necessary. I suggest this: take, as a balance figure, a day's gross income for the person. Sentence all offenders to some number of days (up to years for serious crimes) community service. Give them the option of paying the balance figure instead, with a lower limit to avoid the problems of social security and zero-income people.

Community service and flowers-on-the-grave and stuff like that is actively good for the offender, building a sense of community membership and obligation. As such it ought to be encouraged, so maybe the balance figure should be about 1.25 days' $ per day not worked.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 8:17 PM on July 1, 2002

Interesting point aeschenkarnos - In the UK a system of Unit fines based on earnings was implemented for a while - ie if you're caught speeding, that would be a level 2 fine, which would equate to a certain % of earnings. It got repealed because the tabloid press made a big issue of how much some people were being fined, thereby missing the point.
posted by prentiz at 5:27 AM on July 2, 2002

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