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.