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Stun Belts in Court (themarshallproject.org)
106 points by bryanrasmussen 78 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 74 comments



> County officers authorized to use stun cuffs are required to go through training and are only allowed to use them “to overcome active resistance” or when “active aggression is an immediate or credible threat to the safety of the deputy(s), the public” or the defendant, Christian wrote in an email.

...

> “If I’m sitting here, I’m no security threat,” Calvert said, according to court records cited in an appeal later filed by Calvert’s lawyer.

> “I’m not talking a security threat,” Skeen replied. “I’m talking about you listening to me.”

> Later, Skeen ordered Calvert to sit down and then, a moment later, to answer a question. When Calvert again failed to stand up to address the judge, an officer activated the device, according to court records.

So. This officer who activated the device. What happened to them? Have they been reprimanded? Criminally charged? Are they still given the ability to shock defendents in Smith County courts?


I mean technically it's both threat OR to overcome active resistance.

It could be argued that he was actively resisting by not standing.


I honestly can't tell if you're being serious. In what perverse world is doing nothing considered active resistance?


> it could be argued that he was actively resisting by not standing.

That's "passive resistance" and the reason the term "actively" is specifically used.


> It could be argued that he was actively resisting by not standing.

If that's active resistance, what would an example of passive resistance be?


Following the orders... but with insufficient enthusiasm?


I think the disturbing question that this brings up is: Given that so many judges are willing to abuse stun belts and turn them into a morbid torture device, how can we trust these people to adequately decide important criminal cases. In my opinion, the answer in an alarmingly many number of cases is we can't.

This could be solved quickly if we require the prosecutor and criminal lawyer or self represented defendant to agree on a judge before going to trial. If there are judges out there that very few of one side or the other is willing to agree to, those judges should be reviewed for making biased decisions and be at risk of losing their judgeship. Or we could pay judges by the number of cases they get and hope the ones who don't get many agreements will go away on their own.

This can be a workable system: Just require that the parties keep going if their first choice is not available. For example: we could have 6 judges at random and give each party 3 vetoes to get rid of judges they don't want. We could even just let the parties choose a judge and only have the court intervene when they are unable to select a judge who is available in a reasonable amount of time. I can almost guarantee that the fear of random choice will make most litigants cooperate to pick a good judge.

In any case, the current system of having old lawyers with almost no accountability be judges is wanting.


I think the point is, you don't trust judges. Their decisions are open to appeal - and if they're found to be contrary to the law, they're regularly overturned.

The problem is more with non-lethal weapons. If you don't really heavily regulate them, they're obviously going to be used to torture people into compliance, because that's what they are for. A taser electrocutes somebody until they cannot resist. Pepper spray causes so much pain people stop doing whatever they are doing. There's simply a very subtle distinction between using a torture device to stop somebody from doing something dangerous to themselves or others, and using it to stop them from doing something that's simply problematic or against the law.

Non-lethal weapons ask their users to make these distinctions every day, in stressful situations. If the job in general blurs the line, then you can expect their decisions to be equally blurry.


My 6 year old son and I have constant battles when I correct him for poor choices. He will do the same types of things they described in this article, interrupting, being rude. It's what people in a place with no other options do.

My choices are to escalate and spank or hit him. I've never done that.

He always hears what I say. In the moments of greatest conflict when I'm sure he is ignoring what I'm saying I know he hears it all, because he uses the same techniques on his sisters weeks later, verbatim.

These judges are in a position of power. What they say will be supported and enforced by the massive system all around them. These defendants might pretend to ignore it, but they will hear what is being said.

These judges want to make sure they are being paid respect, and are willing to do something barbaric to achieve that. But, worse than anything this is really stupid because they will provide an avenue for someone who might actually have committed a crime to find a way out. This is pure stupidity and arrogance on the part of the judges. They are putting their own arrogance over the due process of law.


i have a feeling that the places where this sort of crime occurs, also have similar attitudes and detours around due process in a J.D. hogg-esque way.


Even if the stun belts were banned, these malicious judges would still have significant power to harm people via their authority. A judge that would shock a person to punish them for non-violent disobedience cannot be trusted to decide matters of law fairly.


Article 1 of the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment:

"Torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions."

Can anyone, devil's advocate or otherwise, argue that the use of these belts does not constitute torture under international law?

https://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CAT.aspx


I had no idea this was happening in todays world, it is utterly barbaric. To be electrocuting someone constantly throughout their trial, it is so saddening to see society get to this point.


Just FYI, the word "electrocute" is a portmanteau of "electricity" and "execute", which ends with the death of the electrocuted.


But it no longer means that in common use.


No it still means that.


Many people use "electrocute" to mean "receive an electric shock".

Whether the word still means "to receive a fatal electric shock" in spite of this common use is a question of semantics - whether you believe the dictionary ought to be prescriptive or descriptive.


Merriam Webster says https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/electrocute to kill or severely injure


Many people use "lay" where "lie" should be used.

Words mean things.


Neat!


> constantly throughout their trial

Just to be pedantic it was used just once. Not just once in that trial, but just once in that entire county.


The damage it does to due process overshadows the whole trial, and beyond.


Agreed, but incorrect language shouldn't be used either. Every word has a meaning. Polluting the meaning of words, either maliciously or not, creates harm because it obfuscates the truth. The truth is he was shocked once for a nonviolent offense. Not continually.


*It was reported, and the report made public just once.


> A Maryland judge was ousted from office for shocking a defendant who did not stop talking when asked, leaving the man hollering on the ground in pain while the court took a recess.

The video of the shock is linked in the article. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bYfzrof2g4o

It's much more jarring that just reading the description of the event. How can we organize our society to ensure these events are never incentivized to happen?


It's absolutely unbelievable that something like this could occur in modern society. It makes me fearful for the future, not convinced that we are much more advanced than aggressive apes. The way everyone else in the court just ignores the man is like something out of my worst nightmare of the Milgram experiment. Despicable.


I agree, the way everyone else ignores him is unreal. I didn't believe this could occur in modern society either.

There doesn't seem to be an easy fix. The judge is at least partly conditioned by the environment they were raised in. The engineers fed their families with the income earned from building the pain belt.

It makes me wonder how I might be complicit in harmful consequences I can't predict. I'm wondering what actions I could take personally to avoid doing damage like this in the future.


This is our modern "justice" system at work. Defendants and incarcerated persons are not treated with human dignity.


THE COURT: YOU ARE WEARING A VERY BAD INSTRUMENT, AND IF YOU WANT TO FEEL IT, YOU CAN, BUT STOP INTERRUPTING.

MR. HAWKINS: YOU ARE GOING TO ELECTROCUTE ME FOR TALKING?

THE COURT: NO, SIR, BUT THEY WILL ZAP YOU IF YOU KEEP DOING IT. THE DEFENDANT ALSO ALLEGES THAT THE COURT HAS AN EX PARTE CONTACT WITH THE D.A. THAT IS NOT TRUE, AND I AM NOT AWARE THAT THIS DEPUTY D.A. —

MR. HAWKINS: THE TRANSCRIPT WILL REFLECT THAT.

THE COURT: ONE MORE TIME. ONE MORE TIME. GO AHEAD.

MR. HAWKINS: THAT'S UNCONSTITUTIONAL. (AT THIS TIME THE BELT WAS ACTIVATED.) * * *

...

MR. HAWKINS: I THINK YOU HAVE BEEN VERY UNFAIR. I THINK THESE ELECTRONIC SHOCKS TO ME WITHOUT DISPLAYING ANY VIOLENT BEHAVIOR — I THINK IT IS VERY IN-HUMANE ON YOUR PART.

THE COURT: SIR, THERE WAS ONLY ONE BECAUSE YOU REFUSED TO OBEY MY ORDER TO STOP INTERRUPTING ME. SO DON'T MISSTATE THE RECORD. THERE WAS ONLY ONE, NOT PLURAL.

MR. HAWKINS: BUT FOR A VERBAL INTERRUPTION, YOUR HONOR.

THE COURT: YES, SIR, THAT IS EXACTLY RIGHT.

MR. HAWKINS: THAT IS NOT WHAT THIS THING IS DESIGNED FOR. YOU ARE OVERSTEPPING YOUR AUTHORITY.

THE COURT: NO. SIR, ANYTHING ELSE?

Hawkins v. Comparet-Cassani, 251 F.3d 1230, 1232 n.2 (9th Cir. 2001)


That judge should be convicted of assault, if not something more.


Simply privately admonished, it seems, while the county picked up the bill for a $275,000 settlement.

http://www.metnews.com/articles/2011/cjpx081711.htm


Disbarred at the very least. Judges are not allowed to punish. Bailiffs are by executive order.

The judge should explicitly ask for order, then ask the bailiff to maintain order.


If the record shows that the judge ordered the bailiff to shock the man, then it seems like a legal basis for suing the judge.

From what I read the judge didn't shock him, the bailiff did. So this seems like a loophole in the system.

Maybe the judge "nodded" at the bailiff? That would be bad if there is no real verbal order on record to sue over.

This seems like the beginnings of Mad Max or worse.


>MR. HAWKINS: THAT'S UNCONSTITUTIONAL. (AT THIS TIME THE BELT WAS ACTIVATED.) * * *

very symbolic.

In particular I fail to see how Inquisition style corporal/pain punishment for verbal interruption meets constitutional requirement of not being "cruel and unusual".

"One flew over the cuckoo nest"... After administering 10 stuns the judge gets the right to lobotomize the defendant.


https://openjurist.org/251/f3d/1230

So, I wanted to know what happened to this person that ordered the shocks. Who's "THE COURT"? I assume the judge, but there are multiple judges listed in that document.


The defendant in this appeals case is Joan Comparet-Cassani: https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1998-jul-23-me-6344-...

She retired in 2012: https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1998-jul-23-me-6344-...

Also, that document suggest that this former sheriff was a co-defendant in that appeals case: https://tonyortega.org/2017/04/30/as-former-los-angeles-sher...


Your first and second link are the same. It doesn't mention her retirement, so you probably meant the second one to be different. Anyway, thanks for the info!

Maybe you meant the following link for the second:

http://www.metnews.com/articles/2011/judg103111.htm


Why make these devices be manually triggered by someone? The first thing I thought of is if you "had" to have a shock system in place, why not make it like an "invisible fence" for a dog. I get wanting to protect everyone in the court but having this be manually triggered will always lead to abuse.

It would only trigger if the person in question were to actually attempt to harm another and leave their designated area or if they somehow raised their voice higher than a set dB level (Dog barking shock collar type).

Obviously have manual override to turn it OFF when it malfunctions but do not let someone manually be able to turn it ON.

Not advocating for treating people like dogs, however this would be more reactionary to a situation rather than leaving the control be in the hands of a person who may make decisions based on personal preference or emotion.


> Not advocating for treating people like dogs, however...

It's like saying "I'm not racist but..." -- you are in fact advocating treating people like dogs.

There are other solutions to this, as evidenced by it being illegal in all of Europe and Europe and the United Nations pushing to make it illegal in the rest of the world.


Europe's solution to this is glass cages. I'm not sure that's much better on the "not treating people like dogs" scale.


People are confined in many different settings, home, office, prison, etc. This is not dramatically out of line. People are not usually electrocuted for speaking.


How can you possibly have a fair trial this way? It's impossible. I hope this guy wins his appeal. It's incredible that the courts are now more despicable than a murderer and kidnapper in their practices. Let's skip the jury and have the judge administer punishment, even death. Right there in front of everyone. And why? Because the court officers can't restrain one person? What kind of officers are these? They can't keep one person in line? Then fire them. Get someone who can. That's their whole fucking job. What a bunch of weak, useless cowards who would rather torture a man than do their fucking job. Of course the job is dangerous. That's what these cowards signed up for.


Taken to its full extension, when could we see an attempt to include electrocution with ankle monitor systems for bailees, or parolees.


Leave the county, and then Zap! It continues every 60 seconds until you return or the battery dies. It saves the court money by not needing to send a police officer after someone


Oops, they actually just went into a tunnel and it couldn't get a GPS lock.


The "effective" option would be to make it start zapping if it loses a GPS lock.

Good luck if you ever need to go through a tunnel.


Why do they keep calling the pain belt a stun belt?


Because euphemisms are a weapon of evil - if we called them pain belts people would immediately realize they are the baddies.


Sharp pain stuns haha


Judge should be fired. The fact that he is still practising shows the crookedness of the American legal system. It's fine for a judge to have such a tool, but to use it in this way is unacceptable.


No. Judge should be jailed. It's assault, plain and simple.


¿Por qué no los dos?


The root of these and similar problems is that agents of the state are not held accountable to the people.

Ideally the judge, DA, etc would be also be equipped with stun cuffs and then members of the jury may activate them whenever unconstitutional behavior occurs.


I’m motivated by always have enough money for representation and representation through appeals court

A general, perpetual socioeconomic exemption


[flagged]


Please don't take HN threads into nationalistic flamewar. It helps nothing and only makes this place worse.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


Yeah. Hands up, I shouldn't have posted that. But I stand by my perception of a country moving in worrying directions.


Also, you've not ghost banned me have you?


Nope, you're still visible.


Thanks man :)


Most other countries, including in Western Europe, will use a cage or glass box for potentially violent defendants. In the U.S. visible signs of restraint are used extremely rarely because of their perceived prejudicial effect--they're considered more prejudicial by U.S. courts than the courts of most any other system. But it seems this has resulted in an over reliance on electronic restraints.


However, said countries do not use the system of jury trials, so the problem of misrepresenting a witness is bit lessened, as long as the judge follows the law. It still can affect the judge themselves, which is why the means used should be changed.

The bailiffs are supposed to be armed.


As long as the person being hunted is a "criminal", then the people on the sidelines will be cheering for it and calling it "justice" as well.


You must be fed very limited information to have such a warped viewpoint. I've traveled significant amounts of the world, I live in Texas, and I can say that my city is one of the most friendly, loving and accepting of people regardless of gender presentation, sexuality or appearance. To quote Eddie Izzard upon visiting, "a rather groovy outpost".


Don't give them ideas.


You'll be better at reading the news once you realize they only report the unusual.

If something is common it doesn't get reported.

So from that you can learn that using these is very very very unusual.


Just because it hasn't happened to you doesn't make it unusual.


So weird so many people want to come to the U.S. they're building a way to keep them out.

Bizarre they want to live in an unceasingly horrifying place.


It's almost like everywhere in the world has both positive and negative traits, and the fact that positive traits exist doesn't somehow cancel out or negate negative traits. Giving up and pretending they don't exist because, and I quote "America #1" will very quickly lead to America not being #1 if it's even there now.


> It's almost like everywhere in the world has both positive and negative traits

Exactly.


I think you stopped reading a little too soon, I came out overwhelmingly against your analysis.


"Better than Honduras" isn't a great standard.


> So weird so many people want to come to the U.S. they're building a way to keep them out.

Chill, that's mostly because of the proximity to the countries directly affected by US foreign policy. For example, not that many people from non-'shithole' countries (to quote the president) want to come to the US. That's the health barometer you need to look at. At least in the US, for now, people aren't getting shot in the streets or hunted down by death squads. Yet.. And that's not a high standard to reach.


I wish journalists would learn how much more persuasive they can be if they are matter-of-fact. The particulars of this triggered my skepticism in the 4 paragraphs following "Heightening the tension...", and I assumed that important details were being left out, and that there was some sort of scuffle, etc., going on, leading to the shock.

In fact, reading the appeal, the fact pattern looks very bad for the court. The man was shocked mid-sentence as he spoke while sitting down. There appears to have been no scuffle.

So I'm fairly convinced now, but no thanks to this article trying to be "persuasive."


I'm fine with this. If you can't behave yourself in court, you get a zap. Either that or a bailiff cracks you over the head with a club.

It's amazing how effective corporal punishment is even past childhood years. Singapore has some of the lowest crime rates in the world, but act out there and you'll get a caning.




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