Texas Prisoner Reportedly Shocked For Failing To Stand While Addressing Court

150927-james-calvert-jsw-_073fc1537d8d2a0b52aeaf9d4af664f2.nbcnews-ux-320-320I have long been a critic of the use of shock belts, particularly in courtrooms. Those concerns were magnified this week when Judge Jack Skeen or his deputies shocked criminal defendant James Calvert for failing to stand while addressing the court. Calvert had a long history of disrupting the court proceeding.

There is no question that Calvert was a handful in representing himself. However, to use these belts for behavior modification or punishment is deeply disturbing. He can be denied the right to represent himself. But shocked?

Calvert reportedly screamed for five minutes and Judge Jack Skeen ordered public defenders who had been monitoring the case to take over representation. He simply stated “I should have done this a lot sooner. I don’t have to take it. You’re out.” Well, I can understand the decision but not the means. He can be denied his right to self-representation if he refuses to comply with the rules. Yet, to hit him with a high voltage for showing disrespect, it raises serious question of judicial temperament, judgment, and proportionality.

Despite the prosecutors agreeing to suppress evidence of a search of Calvert’s mother’s home, Calvert tried to question a detective about the search. Calvert explained that “I just want the jury to know the truth.” Skeen responded with “What you can’t handle is the truth.”

Perhaps. That and high voltage shocks.

90 thoughts on “Texas Prisoner Reportedly Shocked For Failing To Stand While Addressing Court”

  1. DBQ. ultimately a judge determines whether someone is competent to represent himself but may do so based on expert opinions (either already available or specifically ordered to address the issue). Because a defendant has a constitutional right to represent himself, the standard for determining him incompetent to do so is fairly high. Basically, if he is advised of his rights, and the court determines that he understands the charges and can knowingly and voluntarily waive his right to counsel, then he is entitled to represent himself. The court may deny a defendant the right to represent himself for being disruptive, but it is a fairly high standard. Merely being a little hard for the judge to handle is not enough, but there are no clear rules as to when pushing inappropriate arguments or pursuing improper lines of enquiry crosses the line into being disruptive.

  2. “Lighting up this man for not showing respect is tantamount to assault.”

    There we go!!!!!! I love it.

    Now, if the law were actually applied with any equity should he would be criminally prosecuted for this crime (assault)??

  3. Paul

    “if you would actually learn about civics in the United States you would learn that we have tried or are trying all the things you suggested.”

    I doubt this has anything to do, at all, whatsoever, with civics, the civics of any country. It seems that the most pathetic defense brought to this blog comes from those who connect the failures of the system with the supposed ideals of the system.

    This judge designed his own system. There is nothing remotely redeeming or ideologically connected with the intentions of those that originated the judicial system of the US. I don’t recall any stories of Ben Franklin hooking up prisoners to his kite on stormy days.

    If a person is unruly in a court of law, they should be removed and allowed back in when they have composed themselves. If they refuse to compose themselves, i.e. participate in the affair within reasonable limits of cooperation then they forfeit their right to be physically present. They would be represented by their attorney.

    The creativity of the judge, as in this case, has no part in a court room. Too much Judge Judy.

    Lecturing ‘foreigners’ on American civics is an example of the xenophobic offended patriot.

    1. issac – you seemed to have missed a few civics classes. The use of shock belts is a fairly common means of controlling unruly prisoners. Usually the controls are given to the marshalls (sheriffs, police, etc.) however some judges like to have the control themselves.

  4. There are local rules about standing and sitting and approaching the bench or witnesses. I am not sure if the rules include shocking the prisoner. I do remember a case a few years back where a female judge shocked a male defendant three times. I think she was taken off criminal cases.

    You have a Right to defend yourself, but the judge may appoint an attorney to assist you. It looks like what is happening in this case.

    ninian – if you would actually learn about civics in the United States you would learn that we have tried or are trying all the things you suggested.

  5. DBQ, In the [in]famous Chicago 7 trial, Judge Hoffman refused to allow Bobby Seale represent himself, and had him bound and gagged in the court. I don’t know if he used duct tape. Seale received a 4 year sentence for contempt of court.

  6. OK A serious question. At what point is it decided that the Defendant is not capable of putting on a good defense and that someone else should be representing him/her. Obviously, we should not let mentally deranged or deficient or idiotic people be in charge of their defense because they are not going to be able to adequately protect themselves.

    Who decides this? The judge? A panel of medical professionals? A vote by the jury to kick the bum off the island of the legal podium?

    If this guy is/was so determined to completely disrupt the proceedings and is not able to use the legal process to defend himself…..instead it seems he just wants to rant and rave about his case….then it would seem to be the better choice to deny him his self representation status. How to keep him shut up is another issue. Duct tape is an option. That he didn’t stand up is really quite a petty issue to zap and torture the man.

  7. There must be an entity above the participants in the courtroom, the entity of respect for the law. Everyone in a courtroom must exhibit respect or be removed. Chaining a person to a chair is more an example of the frustration of the judge coupled with expressing authority. Shocking a person is well over the top.

    Perhaps, as in the UK where judges and attorneys wear wigs of horsehair, here in the US judges and attorneys should have to wear head gear to remind them that they too are under the authority of the court and must show respect.

    In this case the judge should get the propellor on his beanie to show the court that he is top dog. The attorneys could get to wear bottle caps or small badges on their beanies, but no propellor.

  8. “To use this device or advocate using such a device is sadistic and makes one wonder about their mental health.

    Yale psychologist Paul Bloom recently wrote about how argued that “people who have a superior capacity for empathy are often willing to inflict the greatest pain on those they believe deserve it. Given the right circumstances, empaths happily allow themselves to be carried away with an impulse to take revenge.”

    That explains the violent moral outrage of leftists, who frequently favor jailing their opponents (e.g., for opposing global warming).
    So yes, I agree, their mental health should be questioned.

  9. A way to cure the deviant in this case is to put two wires on the toilet in the mens room. When the judge goes in to poop and flushes, the wires will then connect to the electric outlet nearby and the judge will get the shock of his life. Electrocution knows no bounds.

    In this case the judge’s defense at the civil rights trial where judge is a defendant will be that the inmate (now plaintiff) was shocked because he was psychotic and needed “shock treatment”.
    This is a rather shocking defense but the case has its electric moments. There is no judicial immunity for assault and battery. And yes this is not just “assault”. Assault is when you aim the gun and battery is when you shoot the guy. Or turn on the battery. And, it is assault with a lethal weapon.

    Soon they will do this shock belt assault and battery to an inmate with a heart condition and the guy will die on the spot.

  10. steve, I get your point and tend to agree. But, my experience over 3 decades is many judges require attorneys to stand when addressing the court or a witness. Some make them stand @ a podium and request permission to leave the podium to approach. I guess I’ve just become immune to this, but I do get the preening nature of it. Judges can be the ultimate control freaks.

    1. Nick: I’ve only got about half your time in court experience, but I’ve never had a judge require standing with or without a podium. Maybe it happens outside of the San Diego family law courts, but still someone who’s elected or appointed, and then self-annoints within a Republican form of government needs to be brought down a few rungs of the ladder.

  11. I think there’s a type of person who would use such a device to punish, these people should not hold a position of authority. To use this device or advocate using such a device is sadistic and makes one wonder about their mental health.

  12. What Darren wrote, verbatim.

    Why waste time? Zapping the defendant might make him a bit too groggy to put on his own defense. Just take the guy down to the basement and put him on the rack. There’s no need for a trial.

    By the way, demanding an attorney stand while addressing the court or a witness is really over the top. To address the court while standing should be at the attorney’s discretion. The judicial officer gets enough respect by not having something thrown at him for this type of demonstrated arrogance in the courtroom.

  13. Extremely shocking…not.


    SEPTEMBER 18, 2015
    What Exxon Knew About Climate Change

    “Wednesday morning, journalists at InsideClimate News, a Web site that has won the Pulitzer Prize for its reporting on oil spills, published the first installment of a multi-part exposé that will be appearing over the next month. The documents they have compiled and the interviews they have conducted with retired employees and officials show that, as early as 1977, Exxon (now ExxonMobil, one of the world’s largest oil companies) knew that its main product would heat up the planet disastrously. This did not prevent the company from then spending decades helping to organize the campaigns of disinformation and denial that have slowed—perhaps fatally—the planet’s response to global warming.

    There’s a sense, of course, in which one already assumed that this was the case. Everyone who’s been paying attention has known about climate change for decades now. But it turns out Exxon didn’t just “know” about climate change: it conducted some of the original research. In the nineteen-seventies and eighties, the company employed top scientists who worked side by side with university researchers and the Department of Energy, even outfitting one of the company’s tankers with special sensors and sending it on a cruise to gather CO2 readings over the ocean. By 1977, an Exxon senior scientist named James Black was, according to his own notes, able to tell the company’s management committee that there was “general scientific agreement” that what was then called the greenhouse effect was most likely caused by man-made CO2; a year later, speaking to an even wider audience inside the company, he said that research indicated that if we doubled the amount of carbon dioxide in the planet’s atmosphere, we would increase temperatures two to three degrees Celsius. That’s just about where the scientific consensus lies to this day. “Present thinking,” Black wrote in summary, “holds that man has a time window of five to ten years before the need for hard decisions regarding changes in energy strategies might become critical.””

  14. Lisa, I agree w/ your point in your last paragraph. I’m actually a bit surprised this has gotten any attention. The guy is white, male and fat. And obviously in need of a makeover. It’s always open season on his ilk. It does show JT is righteous in his indignation as is Don and others.

  15. bam, I got your humor. Some folks understandably miss the point of sardonic comments, others are humorless. From what I know of Don, I think he just legitimately missed it as he respectfully stated.

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