Sign of the Times: Prosecutor Forces Mother and Daughter to Wear Humilitating Signs in His Own Forms of Punishment

bedfoord_330Another case is using the court system for entertaining justice. Evelyn Border, 55 and her daughter, Tina Griekspoor, in Bedford, Pa. have been sentenced to sit outside a courthouse with a sign saying that they stole a gift card from a 9-year-old girl on her birthday. I have previously opposed the use of such humiliation and public scorn punishments, here. It is trend of judges who are freelancing with their own forms of humiliating justice for citizens — an erosion of professionalism and continuity in our legal system.

Border and her daughter had to stand outside the courthouse for 4 1/2 hours with signs reading “I stole from a 9-year-old girl on her birthday! Don’t steal or this could happen to you!” They swiped the card when the girl put the card on a shelf while a Walmart employee helped her.

For pictures of the punishment, click here

Due to their humiliation, Bedford County District Attorney Bill Higgins says he is willing to ask for probation instead of jail. What is particularly disturbing is that this appears to be Higgins’ own initiative rather than the court’s. He is forcing citizens to commit acts of humiliation to his liking or face have harsh sentence demands. Since this type of circus-like punishment is popular with the public, other prosecutors may follow suit and seek their own forms of justice. Higgins may need the distraction given his own controversial record, here. I wonder whether he would support public signs for accused adulterers or having sex in the courthouse.

The girl’s mother is going to bring the girl to watch the public humiliation to teach her about justice, she told the media. However, this has little to do with justice in our system. It teaches this little girl that inflicting humiliation is part of society’s plan and social justice. That is a poor lesson for both justice and children.

For the story, click here and here

20 thoughts on “Sign of the Times: Prosecutor Forces Mother and Daughter to Wear Humilitating Signs in His Own Forms of Punishment

  1. “But in context, it couldn’t have happened to a better guy. He deserves the job and I know for a solid fact he loves the culture. And the women too.”

    creepy. your whole post was creepy.

  2. Doesn’t this violate the principle that there must be no punishment except in accordance with a fixed, predetermined law that authorizes this form of punishment?
    I’m not referring to the Eighth Amendment “cruel and unusual” jurisprudence (obviously, standing with a sign for several hours is less “cruel and unusual” than being thrown in jail, so this creative punishment would definitely pass that test!). But there is a much more fundamental principle involved – that judges can only prescribe punishments authorized explicitly by the law. Show me that statute that authorized this creative punishment . . .

  3. “I think I must have been a ronin in a previous life! It would sure explain a lot . . .”

    Buddha,
    Don’t you get that Ronins were in effect rebels, which puts them on the outs with Japanese society as a whole. Also, while I too find much to admire in Japanese culture, there are actually elements of it that I find quite insane and the notion of “face”
    is one of them. That “face” and seppuku are related is really no accident. Feelings of embarassment and humiliation are the equivalent of wanting to be dead. While this may lead to an ordered society, it is also one where I suspect you and I would be viewed as wild men.

  4. Maaarrghk!,

    Public humiliation has always been a huge component of the way Japanese handle punishment. To be fair, it works better in their society because 1) they were very homogeneous until modern times and 2) they have a tradition that places high value on “face” – dishonor is a well known inducement to seppuku. But they are smart about prisons. They view them (correctly) as nothing more than a school for criminals. They tend to save jail space for Yakuza killers, but lesser non-violent offenses? They have never had an issue with making public humiliation the punishment. Most Japanese live in fear of humiliation. They even have a game show were the object is to humiliate a person into stepping off a dais. It’s crazy.

    On a personal note, I’d also like to add that Japan is probably the safest, cleanest, most polite country (within boundaries) I have ever traveled to. I envy few people. One of them that I do is a former instructor and friend who now teaches at Doshisha University in Kyoto. Green? That hardly covers my jealousy. But in context, it couldn’t have happened to a better guy. He deserves the job and I know for a solid fact he loves the culture. And the women too. If you are reading this, D, know I am talking about you and that I’m the one who once helped you demonstrate aikido to the class. I also fondly recall our very drunk conversation on the way back from the tofu restaurant Hiro took us to. How ya doin’, buddy! LTNS! I did try to track you down last time I was in your former home and they told me the good news. Congrats!

    As a caveat, I should expose my bias in favor of the Japanese. 😉 I think I must have been a ronin in a previous life! It would sure explain a lot . . .

  5. Buddha.
    I think you have been reading my mind as I couldn’t agree more!
    In the UK we seem to be heading towards a state of affairs where we consider any option EXCEPT punishment.
    When the louts that plague our streets are given “community service” or “ASBO’s” they simply wear them as a badge of pride and carry on there bad behavoir just as before.
    Public embarrasment in front of the whole community would certainly not be anything for them to brag about and would be very cheap while keeping the prisons for more serious/persistant offenders.
    A win-win situation as I see it. Now did I spot an old tomatoe at the back of the fridge this morning that looked a little furry……

  6. Mike–

    And don’t forget Michelle Malkin, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, Michael Savage, Orly Taitz… I’m sure we could compile a long list of “common scolds” that we’d really like to silence. You’re probably right that ducking wouldn’t cure them of their shrill talk–for they have no shame. How about public waterboarding?

  7. “Would you also be in favor of Ye Olde Ducking Stool punishment for women who are convicted of being “common scolds?”

    Elaine,
    “Common scolds” represent a big problem to our society, but men to should be added to the equation. I would love to see some of our more common scolds like Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachman, Ann
    Coulter, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck dunked again and again. The only problem is none of these people understand what shame is and so would merely get wet and afterwards declare victory.

    Buddha, Mike A.,
    To me the purpose of criminal law should be to protect society from predation, provide punishment for infraction and serve as a deterrant to future behavior. With misdemeanors such as this I don’t see anything being accomplished. With our criminal justice system, punishment division, becoming another corporate enterprise, I think we have lost perspective on our purposes.

    I am against criminal trials serving as “circuses of retribution” such as having the victim confront the convicted before sentencing. To me this makes a mockery of justice, is played for publicity and in the end psychologically is not the purgative it is thought to be. The trauma of being a crime victim, or having someone close being being victimized to the loss of life, is not relieved by the punishment of the guilty, even though many would swear the opposite.

  8. With the information of the internet (thanks Al Gore) does this type of punishment really matter anymore?

    TMI is like a cluttered house. Some crimes are automatically registered, no matter what. CPS keeps an in house list of people suspected/named of child abuse, even if not guilty or ever charged. So, in the big picture, what’s the difference?

  9. Buddha, I agree with you. There is a place for public humiliation. It may well be the most effective method for dealing with petty crimes. In fact, it’s a prominent part of the scheme for punishing misconduct by lawyers and judges in most states (e.g., mandated appearances before a state supreme court to receive a public reprimand). However, I’m weary of reading accounts of officials at all levels of government, beginning with the president, taking it upon themselves to make up the rules as they go along. It is a form of lawlessness and it sends an entirely wrong message to the public.

  10. Mike A,

    No disagreement that it’s currently not proper, but do you not see the operational efficiency? We need criminal law reform as much as we need prison reform. Does not this kind of sentence suggest a solution that addresses both issues? Should not alternative punishment be a consideration in this conversation?

  11. Crimes are defined by statute. So are penalties. People are thus charged with knowledge of what kinds of behavior are prohibited and of the range of consequences upon conviction. The job of the prosecutor is to present evidence of a crime. Guilt or innocence is determined by the court or by a jury. Sentencing is the function of the court. The plea agreement in this instance should have been rejected by the judge because the prosecutor was usurping the role of the legislature. Regardless of the popularity of public humiliation among the good people of Bedford, Pennsylvania, Mr. Higgins’ actions constitute an unconstitutional abuse of power.

  12. Prof,

    I have to say while I understand and appreciate your concern for the professionalism or lack thereof, I must confess I’m of a bit of mixed feelings on this issue. It costs money to jail inmates and our system is already overburdened with non-violent offenders whose numbers swelled as the private prison industry grew and they purchased judges (see PA Judges Teen Conviction for Cash scandal) and politicians (see that Dick Cheney owns a large chunk of CCA in addition to being a Halliburton’s cancerous teet). Anything that hurts private prison profits is good with me.

    When the crime is a simple non-violent misdemeanor, why not allow options like this? Is it any more egregious than community service? Does it not serve the same “shame” function at a lower cost to the state? Yes, it may make the judge look like a yokel, but I submit that as far as punishment goes these kinds of sentences are probably as effective (or more so in a small community) on the person and certainly cheaper to conduct with the additional benefit of creating profit for one of the great shames of America – the private prison industry. Would codification of the leeway judges have in imposing sentence ease your mind? Like I say, I have mixed feelings on this. In the end those feeling not being settled rest on the fact that not all judges have good sense. I’d be happier if there were limits, but I think there may be some merit to this approach.

  13. I think it’s high time we brought “stocks” back into punishment. That’ll deter crime. I’m particularly keen to on “trial by immersion” which would save a bundle of court costs and provided public entertainment at the same time. However, while we’re at it let’s go for the big one and us crucifixion for our death penalty state, with State run pari-mutuals defraying the costs by paying off to those guessing the exact time of expiration.

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