‘CREATIVE’ CRIMINAL SENTINCING OPTIONS

Let’s start the new year off with something unusual.

There’s a saying, “You do the crime, you do the time.” But sentencing criminal defendants who have either been found guilty after a trial, or who have pled guilty in lieu of a trial, has begun to change in recent years. Yes, usually when sentencing, a trial judge will just use the statutory penalties that are provided. These penalties almost always involve either jail time and/or a financial penalty (fine.) But increasingly, judges are becoming creative in their sentencing, ordering convicted defendants to serve sentences that closely resemble the crime(s) for which they have been convicted. From being forced to hold signs in public telling passersby what they have been convicted of, to leading a donkey through town, sometimes paying one’s debt to society doesn’t mean jail time; it means public humiliation. Public humiliation as a criminal court sentencing option has its roots here in Puritan, New England, of course, most notably depicted by Nathaniel Hawthorne in his famous novel, “The Scarlet Letter.”

Here’s just one of these “alternative sentencing options” to start off the new year:

Just a couple of months ago, this past November 2012, a criminal defendant who pled guilty to failing to stop for a school bus while children were getting off the bus was ordered by a Cleveland Ohio judge to stand on a street corner in Cleveland and hold an embarrassing sign, telling passersby and the public what she had been convicted of. As anyone who has ever driven behind a school bus knows, when the bus stops to allow children to get off and on the bus, drivers are required to stop behind the bus and not attempt to pass it in any way. This traffic law is pretty much universal in any state in the U.S.

It seems Shena Hardin, 32, had a different idea: She was accused by police of actually driving up on the sidewalk to pass the bus, where school kids were getting on and off the bus , and she pled guilty in court to the charge. Cleveland Municipal Judge Pinkey Carr ordered Shena Hardin, 32 to stand on a street corner for two days during rush hour traffic, holding a sign that said, “ONLY AN IDIOT WOULD DRIVE ON THE SIDEWALK TO AVOID A SCHOOL BUS.” The judge also suspended Hardin’s driver’s license for 30 days and ordered her to pay $250 in court costs. In imposing the sentence, Judge Carr commented that she hoped the creative sentence would serve as a warning to other drivers to obey the laws concerning the safety of school buses.

The story doesn’t end there, though. News film crews showed that Hardin was spending her time on the street corner texting and casually talking on her cell phone, not displaying an ounce of remorse. Irked by Hardin’s apparent arrogance, the judge reportedly took the even more unusual step of standing on the corner to monitor that Harden held the sign up for all passersby and motorists to clearly see.

As a Dedham, Massachusetts criminal defense lawyer, I’m not yet sure whether this approach is effective at deterring repeat offenders, but it’s certainly creative.