New Zealand Law Society - Sentencing a la Cicconetti

Sentencing a la Cicconetti

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District Court Judge David Wilson was well known in Tauranga in the last decades of the 20th century for what Chief District Court Judge Peter Trapski once described as a pioneering role in sentencing. Judge Wilson, who died earlier this year aged 83, made the news when a young man appeared in court after calling the Police “pigs”. As part of his sentence, he was required to run out to a local piggery. It appears that the piggery was quite a way out of town.

While New Zealand’s judiciary are relatively limited in the types of sentence they can impose, United States Judge Michael Cicconetti continues to entertain, amuse and enrage with his approach to sentencing.

Judge Cicconetti is a busy man. He deals with 30 to 40 cases a day in the Painesville, Ohio Municipal Court. Since the mid-1990s he has become renowned for what have been described as creative sentences. It began when he sentenced a man who had illegally passed a school bus. The man was required to take a day off work and travel with the school bus driver so he could experience the dangers posed by passing cars.

Recidivism rate

Judge Cicconetti has appeared in the media many times. He says he started by wanting to do something which would stop the same people coming back to court with the same offences. He has claimed that there is a recidivism rate of 10% for people who appear before him – compared to over 75% in the United States. Like Judge Wilson, Judge Cicconetti’s philosophy is to incorporate elements of the crime in the punishment.

And, with echoes of Judge Wilson, Judge Cicconetti’s most famous sentence was in 2002 when a man appeared in court after shouting obscenities at police and calling them pigs. His sentence was to stand on a busy street corner for two hours with a real pig and a sign which said: “This is not a police officer”. Other interesting Cicconetti sentences:

  • Two teenagers who stole and defaced a statue of the baby Jesus had to march through town with a donkey and a sign which said: “Sorry for the jackass offense.”
  • A man and woman who had sex on the beach were required to put a notice in the local newspaper, apologising to everyone who had seen them.
  • A young woman who failed to pay a taxi driver for a 30-mile ride was asked to choose between 30 days in jail and $100 restitution or walking 30 miles. She chose the walk.
  • A woman who abandoned young kittens was sentenced to spend the night alone in the forest without water, food or entertainment. This didn’t work out all that well as a sudden blizzard blew up and she had to be rescued around midnight – to spend the rest of the night in jail.
  • A man who carried a loaded gun in a public place was sentenced to visit the local mortuary to view the corpses there.
  • A woman who neglected her dog was given the option of 90 days in jail or eight hours at the tip picking up rubbish. She chose the rubbish.

Some fish hooks

It gets a little bit more worrying with one of his latest sentences. A woman in court for pepper-spraying someone in the face was sentenced to undergo being pepper-sprayed in the face. An eye for an eye? The spray was administered in the courtroom, but the offender did not know it had been replaced with saline solution. She jerked her head away when the sentence was carried out.

Not quite as bad perhaps as another US judge, Smith County Court-at-Law Judge Randall Rogers, who recently passed sentence on a young man who had pleaded guilty to assault with bodily injury. He was given a choice of two years’ probation or 15 days in jail. Part of the probation terms were writing out a Bible verse 25 times a day (“If a man digs a pit, he will fall into it.”) and getting married within 30 days to his girlfriend. The offender chose the probation and has since married (reports are silent on whether he is writing out the verse each day). The Freedom from Religion Foundation has now filed a complaint with the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct.

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