Category Archives: Shaming

Mugshot Shaming & Facebook

A news article from CBS 6 News reports that the Chesterfield County Sheriff’s Office in Virginia has decided to post weekly mugshots of people arrested on DUI charges on their Facebook page. Every Thursday they put the mugshots together into a video that gets thousands of views.

The sheriff told CBS 6 that while deputies aren’t making the arrests, they’re hoping the videos will make a difference.

“It’s a community issue,” he said, and pointed out that DUI infractions are on the rise.

Over the past seven days, 22 people in Chesterfield were charged with DUI.

“So we wanted to do our part, in conjuction with the police department, who do a good job making the arrests, and seeing if we couldn’t help deter somebody from getting in that car when they’ve had too much to drink,” said Sheriff Karl Leonard.

Additionally, the Chesterfield Sheriff’s Office wants to remind viewers that everyone you see here is innocent until proven guilty in court.

My opinion? Often, clients facing criminal charges ask me whether they can sue the Bellingham Herald – or anyone else, for that matter – on claims of slander and/or libel for posting their arrest on the Herald’s weekly jail reports.

Unfortunately, the typical answer is “No.” Under the common law, proving slander and libel require a finding that the information distributed to the public is untrue. Here, the fact that someone was arrested is, in fact, true. Therefore, that information can be reported. Additionally, news media outlets reporting this information provide the caveat to viewers that arrested individuals are innocent until proven guilty in court. Chesterfield County Sheriff’s Office has done this as well.

Still, social media is used by everyone. Who among us wants their arrest information posted on Facebook? The information is a scarlet letter. It’s embarrassing. Worst-case scenario,  people may lose employment opportunities and come under scrutiny from their peers, family and friends from the posting of this highly personal information on Facebook.

On a positive note, posting people’s mugshots on Facebook could reveal whether police are racially profiling DUI defendants. Watch the video. Notice how 99.9% of Chesterfield County’s DUI offenders are Hispanic or African American? This, in a county where census data information reveals that 70% of Chesterfield County’s population is 70% Caucasian?

Interesting. Stay tuned . . .

State v. Button: Public Shaming Sentence Struck

VERY interesting opinion from the WA Court of Appeals says that a “shaming” sentence for a defendant convicted of is unlawful. More specifically, the Sentencing Reform Act does NOT support a sentencing court’s requirement that a defendant convicted of Theft First Degree must stand on a street corner holding a sign that states, “I stole from kids. Charlotte Button.” 

          

http://www.courts.wa.gov/opinions/pdf/D2%2044036-9-II%20%20Order%20Publishing%20Opinion.pdf

The defendant Charlotte Button was convicted for First Degree Theft for embezzling funds from a high school club. The trial court sentenced her to two months in jail and imposed an additional conditionwhich intended to “send a message to the community.” The court explained the sentencing condition: “Before you begin your jail time, you are going to spend 40 hours standing at the corner of Wishkah and Broadway with a sign that says, ‘I Stole Money From Kida. Charlotte Burton.’ You’re going to do it two hours at a time twice a day from 7:00 to 9:00 in the morning and 4:00 to 6:00 in the afternoon.” Along with the “public shaming condition, the judge also imposed 60 days jail.

Ms. Button appealed the “public shaming” portion of her sentence on the grounds that it violated her Constitutional Rights under the First Amendment and 8th Amendment of the Constitution. In other words, her Free Speech rights were violated and the judge’s sentence was arguably Cruel & Unusual Punishment.

The Court of Appeals decided that although Washington’s Sentencing Refor Act allows a number of sentencing alternatives – including drug treatment for drug offenders and sexual deviance treatment for sex offenders – “public shaming” is not a designated sentencing alternative. “Nor does any other Sentencing Reform Act provision independently authorize the sign-holding condition, which clearly requires Button to affirmatively engage in some conduct. Thus, there is no statutory authority allowing the imposition of a sign-holding condition in the first instance.”

The Court did not address Ms. Button’s Constitutional arguments.

My opinion? Good decision. It’s well-grounded in statory authority (and lack thereof). Sure, the defendant’s actions leading to the conviction were bad. Nevertheless, she paid her debt to society by serving a significant amount of jail (60 days). And I’m sure the court imposed restitution and court fines, as well. Good decision.