I recently became aware of a driving offense case in Ohio that drew my attention. A woman in question was convicted within a prosecution where her driving activity had her improperly passing a school bus with children on board. As part of the woman’s sentence she was ordered to stand outside in public with a sign indicating that she was an idiot due to her inability to propery drive her motor vehicle.
With increasing frequency, isolated pockets of judicial thought has been directed at pacifying a public that often feels alienated from a justice system it believes is more geared to protecting the rights of a defendant than that of society. Unfortunately, to various degrees, whether placing declarations on publicly dispayed license plates for one who has been convicted of drunk driving to being compelled to wear a dunce cap subjecting one to gawking ridicule, we as a society must be mindful of the end game concerning where such judicially endorsed ridicule can lead.
Many within the general public are apt to endorse the public shaming of criminal defendants. Looking from a far and without specific knowledge of the facts or circumstances of a case in question, it is rather easy to succumb to a vengeful impulse by willingly accepting the often sensationalized media reports of a story angling for high ratings.
What is more challenging to consider is the unintended consequences of a society that allows the concept of shaming to pervade judicial sentencing options. The criminal justice system touts rehabilitation as one of the foremost aims in reforming those convicted of crimes. Such pronouncements are reflective of the type of society we in America claim to represent. Our criminal justice system is not founded upon the notion of vengeance. However, should we allow judicial decision making to be unduly influenced by a public cheering section with a thirst for retribution and public shaming, our nation runs the risk of becoming a land no different from those within the middle east for which acknowledged public vengeance and retribution are commonplace.
Sure, being compelled to carry a sign in a public setting declaring that one is an idiot is a far cry from a public stoning for adultery or the cutting off of one’s hand for theft. However, before we within american society cast the first stone as it were toward the cultures of other societies with legal systems that fully embrace the virtue of public retribution, let us recognize our own legal practices as they exist and not what we wish them to be.
If we as a nation truly decry the barbarism we abhor within far off lands as to the public desecration of the human spirit, we must not be so quick to applaud those jurists tempted to appease the public and garner media notoriety by appealing to the most primal of human instincts as opposed to our most ethical ones.
Thankfully, as an owi lawyer I can say that the fact that such sentences are still reported and newsworthy is indicative of the reality that these types of judicial punishments are not the normal course of conduct for judicial action. The danger of widespread adaptation of these sentences occurs when they are no longer noteworthy; when public shaming has been readily accepted as judicially sanctioned punishment in America. It is then that an increased severity of public penalty may be potentially directed at a public immune to the notion that mere humiliation is sufficient to deter criminal conduct. Having lost its way such a society then casts an eye toward more violent public displays of punishment. It is then that we will have lost our ideals as a nation forever and become more as one with those societies with which we are presently at war.