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November 2, 2006

A proper case for shaming?

I wonder what Dan Markel and other prominent critics of shaming sanctions will think of this sentencing story from Florida:

Once he gets out of jail, a Sorrento man convicted of DUI-manslaughter will spend the next six years attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings twice a week and telling everyone there, "My name is Hal, and I killed a man driving drunk." That was part of the sentence handed down Wednesday to Haldon M. Tompkins, 60, who on Nov. 20, 2004, pulled away from a stop sign and into the path of Osvaldo Valladares, 43, of Eustis.

The collision killed Valladares and left Tompkins with a broken jaw. Blood tests showed that Valladares was more drunk than Tompkins, and the state trooper who investigated the crash concluded that if Valladares hadn't been driving nearly 20 mph above the speed limit, there would have been no crash. Still, jurors on Sept. 22 convicted Tompkins.

On Wednesday, Circuit Judge Clayton Simmons handed down a lenient sentence.  He could have sent Tompkins to prison for 10 to 15 years, as sentencing guidelines suggested. Instead, the judge ordered Tompkins to jail for a year, followed by a year of house arrest and then five years of probation. During those six years, the judge ordered Tompkins to go to AA meetings twice a week and, at each one, to introduce himself as a drunk driver who had killed a man.

Would Dan and others imposed to shaming sanctions have thought a 10 year imprisonment sentence would be more appropriate and just in this case?  Would it have better served human dignity?

Some recent related posts on shaming:

November 2, 2006 at 09:43 AM | Permalink


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This seems a lot more likely to be effective than the one-day-at-the-post-office Gementera deal.

Posted by: Chris | Nov 2, 2006 10:57:48 AM

I'm not sure that this can even properly be described as a shaming sanction, since AA meetings designed to be confidential. Isn't the essence of a shaming sanction the public nature of such a punishment?

In my view, this sentence is truly merciful, but I don't think I could have handed it down (were I the judge) unless the victim's family went along.

Posted by: NCProsecutor | Nov 2, 2006 11:27:48 AM

I agree with the above statement that, in handing down these types of "alternative" sentences, especially where it involves extreme departure/disparity from traditional sentences of incarceration, judges should make every effort to involve the victim or victim's family in the process (not saying the judge didn't here). This would help facilitate closure and foster empowerment by preventing the victims from feeling disenfranchised in the legal process, although advisory guideline sentences aren't exactly pure democracy at work.

Posted by: Shawn Davisson | Nov 2, 2006 1:47:22 PM

I think it's the same basic idea as a shaming: getting someone to admit to other people that he's misbehaved (in this case, killed someone). The sanction is aimed at how the offender looks to other people, even if it's only how he looks during the limited time of the AA session. It seems to me that shame is most likely to be effective when it occurs in the context of continuing relationships, as with an AA group. Shaming always has format, medium, and audience variables that can be tweaked, and this is just a tweaking of the audience variable.

Posted by: Chris | Nov 2, 2006 2:23:20 PM

I have my doubts about involving the victims in the determination of the sentence. It creates unwanted sentencing disparities, because victims who are especially articulate will have a disproportionate impact on the outcome.

Consider identical cases: one drunk driver kills a man who has no family, and another kills a man who leaves behind three young children. The two crimes are the same. Why should the first drunk driver get off easy, just because there don't happen to be any survivers who can come into court and make a passionate victim impact statement?

Posted by: Marc Shepherd | Nov 2, 2006 3:15:27 PM

Involving victims in sentencing generally wasn't the driving foce of my statement, assuming your (Marc) statements were in response to my post. In fact, my statements were more anti-disparity than anything (unwarranted disparity that is) because I suggested that victims be involved only where there is a likelihood of significant departure/disparity from the "traditional" sentence imposed for a particular offense. This sentiment is more geared toward allowing victims a voice when alternative sentences are on the table.

Posted by: Shawn Davisson | Nov 2, 2006 3:44:43 PM

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