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November 4, 2009

Public shaming instead of incarceration in Pennsylvania theft case

Shaming A helpful reader forwarded to me this story from Pennsylvania, headlined "Women Hold Signs Admitting Theft."  Long-time readers may recall that I tend to be a supporter of shaming sanctions, especially when they serve as a substitute for incarceration.  As the press report explains, that's exactly what has happened in this notable state case:

In exchange for no jail time, a woman and her adult daughter have agreed to stand outside a Pennsylvania courthouse holding signs saying they stole a gift card from a 9-year-old girl on her birthday.

Fifty-six-year-old Evelyn Border and 35-year-old Tina Griekspoor stood outside the court for 4 1/2 hours Tuesday.  They held signs that read: "I stole from a 9-year-old girl on her birthday!  Don't steal or this could happen to you!"

Because the women agreed to hold the signs, Bedford County District Attorney Bill Higgins says he'll ask for probation instead of jail when they plead guilty to the theft.  Higgins says they swiped a gift card that the girl set on a shelf while a Walmart employee helped her.

The girl's mother planned to drive by the courthouse to teach her daughter the importance of obeying the law.

Some new and old posts on shaming sentences:

November 4, 2009 at 12:30 PM | Permalink


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Public Shaming Instead of Incarceration: At Sentencing Law and Policy, Doug Berman posts on a Pennsylvania district attorney's decision to pursue probation instead of incarceration for two women who were arrested for stealing a gift card from a nine-ye... [Read More]

Tracked on Nov 4, 2009 5:41:33 PM


Careful. Someone who thinks attention is rewarding, even if negative could work hard to earn more such penalties, or someone who wants street cred as a roughian. I can see a new line of T-shirts going like hotcakes with that slogan. In fact, I would buy one. Add, "The little spoiled brat is a big crybaby and did not deserve the gift card anyway," by way of a partial defense.

Better alternative punishment: restitution. More meaningful, less attention getting, less rewarding, more appropriate remedy to the injury. Do the kid's homework, chores, and make her bed, shine her shoes as she wears them, for a year, while loudly saying, I apologize for stealing your gift card.

This is lawyer bullshit promoted by Dan Markel, a left wing ideologue criminal lover advocating, confrontational conception of retributivism (CCR). I wonder if Prof. Berman was at Harvard when he was. I bet even Harvard law students found his pedantics too much and wanted to depants him. To CCR.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Nov 4, 2009 1:47:50 PM

That and other areas of Pennsylvania rebut any correlation between poverty and crime. They are poor. They are honest.

There is resident evil sometimes, but it is the exception.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Nov 4, 2009 1:51:13 PM

I was surprised to see that this punishment was meted out by the DA prior to the defendants even pleading guilty. Is this typical? I haven't followed these "shaming sentences" closely, but I had always assumed that they were, well, sentences, imposed by a judge after a conviction. I'm a little concerned by the idea that a DA would ask a defendant to do this at this stage in the case, almost as a form of plea bargaining.

Posted by: Anon321 | Nov 4, 2009 4:17:08 PM

Yes, I agree with SC on this topic. The problem with shaming sentencing is that they bring attention to the crime and not the criminal. There are people who will look at that picture and think to themselves, "righteous, dude." (and that is meant as a compliment towards the crook.) Other people will just feel sorry for the poor SOB and think there for the grace of God go I....by that I mean getting caught.

Really, they were going to throw them in the clink for swiping a gift card. How much money can a 9 year old have on a GC anyway. The story doesn't say but methinks there is more to it than what meets the eye.

Posted by: Daniel | Nov 4, 2009 5:22:19 PM

I'm not sure what's worse. Being maligned by SC on Doug's blog or having SC misrepresent my position. Alas. Hopefully DAB, you will exercise some quality control--if you do, please feel free to delete this message too.

Posted by: Dan Markel | Nov 4, 2009 11:43:03 PM

Prof. Markel: I owe you an apology, which is sincere. You oppose shaming because it injures the dignity of the criminal too much. We do not want criminals to feel embarrassed.

Any hint of the word, no, may decrease crime and lawyer jobs.

You like retributions for crime. These involve atonement, a religious, and unlawful idea in our secular nation. You have no evidence any violent repeat offender is capable of atonement except for the regret of getting caught and the hassles of the resulting paper work. Sell it to the Vatican. The sole value of the criminal justice system to its owners, the public, is to protect the public by incapacitation of the small number of ultra-violent, lawyer clients committing most violent crimes. These should be killed as quickly as young as the public can stomach. We do know retribution involves endless lawyer make work, disputations, and supervision by huge bureaucracies supervised by lawyers.

I suppose the low cost and reliable pedagogic value of private caning is out of the question in your book. Costs almost nothing, can be repeated daily if necessary, and is memorable to the criminal and his pals.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Nov 5, 2009 12:56:12 AM

Anon321 asks: "I was surprised to see that this punishment was meted out by the DA prior to the defendants even pleading guilty. Is this typical?"

Yes. It's pretty much how the sentencing guidelines work in federal courts.

Posted by: John K | Nov 5, 2009 11:40:42 AM

John K,

I suspect you're being facetious, but if not, could you elaborate? Are you saying that federal sentences are imposed by AUSAs before defendants plead guilty? Prosecutors can certainly influence sentencing, by what they charge, by what enhancements (and reductions) they seek, and by what arguments they make. But I have a hard time seeing how they impose any punishments, much less any punishments before the defendant is convicted. (Again, if you were just making a joke, I apologize.)

Posted by: Anon321 | Nov 5, 2009 2:35:17 PM

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In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB