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Remember Greg Pringle, the commuter who got a ticket for driving in an HOV lane with a dummy beside him to make it appear there were two persons in the car? He was sentenced yesterday. The Judge ordered him to spend four hours (in one hour sessions) standing beside a highway in Westminsister holding a sign that says: “The HOV Lane Is Not For Dummies.” He was told he can bring the dummy. The Judge also said that if Pringle ends up on David Letterman’s show, he must share any proceeds with the city. I’m not laughing. Shaming punishments demean and further alienate the offender. There is no need to bring back the “Scarlet A”. This is not the middle ages. As Georgetown law professor Jonathan Turley wrote in the Washington Post:
There’s no evidence that creative sentences work better at deterring crime than other punishments. Yet public punishments can be harshest on the most commonly targeted and vulnerable group — young people. The recent penchant for customized punishments also undermines efforts to make criminal sentencing more uniform. Creative punishments often reflect the cultural character of a state. While an abusive father was given the choice of sleeping in a doghouse in Texas, domestic abusers were forced to attend meditation classes with herbal teas and scented candles in Santa Fe, N.M.
Read through Turley’s examples of shaming punishments in other states. And then consider what could happen to you should you commit a minor offense:
As judges vie for notoriety through sentencing, citizens will be increasingly uncertain about the consequences of their actions. Will it be probation or humiliation? Once you allow judges to indulge their own punitive fantasies, defendants become their personal playthings — freaks on a leash to be paraded at the judges’ pleasure.