Letâ€™s be clear: judges can, and apparently do, administer electric shocks to defendants â€” not for security reasons, but for not conforming to courtroom decorum. But a Texas Court of Appeals has held that doing so violates the constitutional rights of the defendant and ordered a new trial.
The judge in question, George Gallagher, was presiding over the trial of Terry Lee Morris, who was convicted of soliciting the sexual performance of a child, when he ordered the repeated electrical shocks of the defendant via a stun belt that was strapped to him. The first shock came when Morris refused to enter a plea, and told the judge he had a case pending against his attorney and Gallagher. Then, as reported by Law.com, this disturbing exchange occurred:
â€œAre you going to follow the rules?â€� Gallagher asked Morris, according to the opinion.
â€œI have a lawsuit pending against you,â€� Morris replied.
â€œHit him,â€� Gallagher said.
After shocking Morris the first time, Gallagher asked Morris if he would adhere to courtroom decorum.
â€œAre you going to behave?â€� Gallagher asked.
â€œI have a history of mental illness,â€� Morris replied.
â€œHit him again,â€� Gallagher said.
Morris later said Gallagher was â€œtorturingâ€� him, that he was a mental health patient, and that â€œyouâ€™re wrong for doing this.â€� He also told Gallagher he was firing his lawyer and that he had the right to represent himself.
After refusing to answer Gallagherâ€™s questions, Morris was shocked a third time, the appeals court said. The opinion said 50,000 volts can have cognitive impairment effects on a defendant, but it did not mention what Morrisâ€™ condition was after being shocked.
Based on this treatment, Morris appealed his conviction, and a new trial was ordered.
Though Gallagher offered up a security justification for his actions, the court of appeals rejected that argument. Justice Yvonne Rodriguez noted it was essential to stop courts from â€œdrift[ing] from justice into barbarismâ€�:
â€œNever before have we seen behavior like this, nor do we hope to ever see such behavior again,â€� wrote Justice Yvonne Rodriguez of Gallagherâ€™s decision to shock Morris. â€œAs the circumstances of this case perfectly illustrate, the potential for abuse in the absence of an explicit prohibition on non-security use of stun belts exists and must be deterred.â€�
â€œWe must speak out against it, lest we allow practices like these to affront the very dignity of the proceedings we seek to protect and lead our courts to drift from justice into barbarism,â€� Rodriguez wrote. â€œWe further hold that the use of stun belts for other purposes, such as a method to enforce decorum or as a punishment for a defendantâ€™s obstreperous conduct, is constitutionally prohibited.â€�
Lisa Mullen, Morrisâ€™s attorney on appeal, said she was pleased with the court of appeals decision. She also said sheâ€™s dealt with Judge Gallagher before, and this incident was unusual for the judge saying Gallagherâ€™s behavior was â€œjust an aberration and a horrific one.â€�
Letâ€™s hope so. Morrisâ€™s re-trial will be presided over by Judge Gallagher.
Kathryn Rubino is an editor at Above the Law. AtL tipsters are the best, so please connect with her. Feel free to email her with any tips, questions, or comments and follow her on Twitter (@Kathryn1).
The post No, Judges Canâ€™t Administer Electric Shocks To Defendants That Refuse To Answer Questions appeared first on News World.