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. So Oscar Wilde being punished for having an intimate relationship with Lord Douglas is no affront to liberty?? After all, the actions did not harm any others, and they were together for several years, and not until Wilde sued Douglas’s Father for Defamation did the State come after him Now, you see… applying the criminal law inherently involves equity judgments… what is criminal is an equity judgment.

    1. chipkelly – not until Wilde lost the case and it was obvious to everyone that he was gay and Lord Douglas was his lover, did they go after him. Wilde’s mistake was to sue for libel.

  2. Mr. Schulte,

    Indeed you do hate liberty. One of the greatest writers in the English language and he was punished for being gay…. Telling!!

    Oscar Wilde also signed on to a petition supporting the pardon of the Anarchist martyrs at Haymarket Square

    What a treasure… if you love liberty and not authority with oppression.

    This blog’s chosen religion: the State and its corresponding Corporate friends (authority and dogma).

    1. chipkelly – I wrote a readers theatre play comparing the works of Wilde against the testimony of his trial. Wilde was convicted of breaking the law. It is not my law, but it was the law at the time.

      Please do not put words in my mouth.

  3. chipkelly – I am a big fan of liberty, guns, etc. I think that everyone should have an aircraft carrier. I am not a fan of shock belts, just stating a fact.

  4. Paul

    My point is that this behavior has no place in the ‘rights and duties’ of citizens, or the study thereof. This is a behavior by the judge that is devised by the particular court and/or judge. One could loosely include it in the study of civics if one were to replace the title of the class with, ‘The study of rogue courts’ and other practices in the American, Still Wild, West.

    Civics implies a much more evolved judicial system, something that is part of the ideals of a society. Your using the term civics lends to this abhorrent practice some degree of normalcy. It may or may not be torture to isolate a criminal in solitary until he or she settles down. However, this shock treatment is nothing but torture. What’s next, a light cigarette in the eye?

  5. Oscar Wilde: “Wherever there is a man who exercises authority, there is a man who resists authority.”

    y’all should take note.

  6. Thanks Richard

    Generally, the appellate cases permit a judge to appoint counsel if the defendant is actively disruptive (yelling and screaming, physically acting out, verbally responding to hallucinations, etc.) but not when the defendant is merely insisting on making inappropriate or obviously counter-productive arguments.

    I would think that the fact that this is a murder trial with a possible death penalty verdict, and since the defendant has been (according to some other articles about it that I read) very disruptive, objecting to everything and basically NOT putting up a coherent defense…….not to mention likely annoying the heck out of the jurors…..that they should at the very least appoint a co-counsel for him. And likely should remove the defendant from being pro se.

    It isn’t as if he is defending himself for a minor crime. This is pretty major. It is bad enough to irritate the judge, you really don’t want to P O the jurors by acting like a fool and wasting their time. Many of the jurors don’t want to be there anyway.

    I believe that to let this continue is to ensure that there will be an appeal (incompetent counsel…himself) and to ensure more time and money wasted.

  7. mr. schulte,

    you are fishing for something that is not there. I never said criminal courts were equity courts.

    The application of the criminal law includes law enforcement (police officers, security personnel, sheriffs, FBI, DEA, etc.) and the prosecutor deciding who to prosecute. Equity is indeed a part of these decisions, the law does not stand alone as some autonomous body, it can only be enforced through social institutions which necessarily make judgment calls on what is equity.

  8. DBQ, I agree with you that the judge’s action indicates a lack of control. Certainly even the best judge’s can get very irritated by courtroom anticts. Those judges take a break to cool down before getting so irritated they act out–often before anyone but those who know them very well can tell they are irritated at all.

    The issue of how much a defendant’s conduct should be permitted to negatively impact his defense is a difficult one. A defendant’s arguments may be obviously inflammatory to a rational person, while still falling within the purview of his right to put on a defense as he sees fit. Generally, the appellate cases permit a judge to appoint counsel if the defendant is actively disruptive (yelling and screaming, physically acting out, verbally responding to hallucinations, etc.) but not when the defendant is merely insisting on making inappropriate or obviously counter-productive arguments. A defendant can make absurd arguments, or refuse to present an obviously valid defense without being denied his constituional right to defend himself.

  9. Yo bloggers: It is “assault” when you aim a gun and threaten. It is assault and battery when you pull the trigger and shoot the person. Same with the Shock Belt. Assault when they put it on him and battery when they hit the switch.

  10. ….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).

    Thank you Richard for the reply…..and thanks for staying on topic.

    I wonder also how much a judge might factor in the antics or effects that those actions by an out of control self defending client might have on the jury. If the actions are so egregious, rude and tedious to the jury to the point that he (the defendant) is harming himself because….basically, they hate him and are sick of his sh*t, it might be better to substitute a more “conventional” attorney.

    In addition, how impartial can this particular judge possibly be if he is so annoyed by the defendant that the judge resorts to electro shocking him. Judges are supposed to be impartial, but if you really really take such a dislike to the defendant (or anyone else involved in the the case) it is hard to remain in that state of Olympian impartiality. Judges are human too and so are the jury members.

    Frankly, just looking at the photo of this guy, I peg him as an obnoxious, smug, arrogant, neck beard who probably has Cheeto dust all over his fat chest and likely is a basement dwelling geekoid who could use as good shower. I guess that would disqualify ME from being an impartial jury member 😀

  11. Oh, and Annie, Kim Davis came out of her Republican closet last week…
    … So much for the anti-gays here screaming, “But she’s a Democrat.”

  12. When living in, “The Land of It’s Not When We Do”…
    … It’s never assault when a Judge assaults you.

  13. Annie, Don,
    Who needs facts when they can readily dismiss those facts as some liberal conspiracy. When, in fact, the conspiracy to thwart any revolution in energy policy is fronted and paid by large corporate entities dependant upon the gullible nature of the western mind think.

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