Pittsburgh Legal Back Talk

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Former Justice Orie Melvin Not Required To Endure Humiliation, Handcuffed Pictures Stricken from Sentence By Superior Court.

Posted By Cliff Tuttle | August 22, 2014

No. 1,097

Image: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Image: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Superior Court affirmed the sentence of Joan Orie Melvin with one important change.  She is not being required to endure the humiliation of being exhibited in a photograph of her in handcuffs after the trial.  The Court held that this was an unnecessary humiliation. We argued for this outcome after the sentence was announced.

On October 15, 2013, at Post No. 993, PLBT stated:

Former Justice Orie Melvin appeared in Court today.  Judge Lester Nauhouse wanted to know why she hadn’t complied with the part of her sentence that required her to send letters of apology to all of the members of the judiciary in Pennsylvania accompanied by a photograph of her wearing handcuffs.  The short answer, delivered by her attorney, was that the sentence was under appeal.

Indeed.  I would be willing to bet a month of lunches that no modern appellate court anywhere in America has ever endorsed such an unusual sentence. And what is the purpose of requiring the former Justice to distribute copies of a photo of herself in handcuffs?  It could only have one effect — humiliation.

And I will bet you a year of lunches that if such a photograph is ever distributed that it will turn up on the internet within 48 hours. And then, on the front page of newspapers around the world.

Am I missing something here? Assuming that former Justice Orie Melvin does not have any such photos lying about, is she supposed to hire a photographer to take a picture of her in handcuffs?  Am I the only person who thinks that this sounds slightly kinky? If I remember correctly, a raft of legislative leaders in this Commonwealth were convicted of more-or-less similar offenses.  None of them were required to distribute photographs of themselves in humiliating circumstances.

If the sentence here is not unusual, why hasn’t it been employed in sentences for similar crimes? Then again, maybe stocks would be better.  I think there may be some available in Williamsburg. And what about a dunking stool?  

But wasn’t that the kind of punishment that the Eighth Amendment was supposed to abolish? The Eighth Amendment is about human dignity. Thats why we don’t have any stocks in the Courtyard of the County Courthouse.

 The Supreme Court, the United States Supreme Court that is, said that handcuffing a prisoner to a post was a violation of the Eighth Amendment in the case of Hope v Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730 (2002).    Part of what made this sort of punishment cruel and unusual was that it humiliated the prisoner so grievously that it was an affront to human dignity.

In Trop v Dulles, 356 U.S. 86 (1958), Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote: “The basic concept underlying the Eighth Amendment is nothing less than the dignity of man.  While the state has the power to punish, the Amendment stands to assure that this power is exercised within the limits of civilized standards.  Fines, imprisonment and even execution may be imposed depending upon the enormity of the crime, but any technique outside the bounds of these traditional penalties is constitutionally suspect.”

Even convicted ex-jurists are entitled to the proper  modicum of human dignity.  Its in the Constitution. CLT –

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CLIFF TUTTLE has been a Pennsylvania lawyer for over 45 years and (inter alia) is a real estate litigator and legal writer. The posts in this blog are intended to provide general information about legal topics of interest to lawyers and consumers with a Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania focus. However, this information does not constitute legal advice and there is no lawyer-client relationship created when you read this blog. You are encouraged to leave comments but be aware that posted comments can be read by others. If you wish to contact me in privacy, please use the Contact Form located immediately below this message. I will reply promptly and in strict confidence.

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