Electrocuting Defendants In Court May Be a Growing and Troubling Practice

We’re all familiar with the police’s ability to shock–or “tase”–as a method of subduing the unruly or those resisting arrest. It’s generally seen as a more humane alternative for police to gain an upper hand, rather than use lethal force.

But in one Maryland criminal courtroom, it was not the police doing the electrocuting during an arrest. It was the judge ordering it, inside his courtroom, and during the defendant’s own trial. And you’ll be shocked (pun intended) to learn that this isn’t the first time defendants have been shocked in open court.

The Use of Electronic Control Devices

It’s actually not uncommon for defendants to be fitted with devices that allow officers to shock them in court if needed. Such devices are often used as a security device for self-represented defendants, who need to be able to walk about the court during their trial and present their case. But obviously, actually electrocuting defendants is supposed to be reserved for when the defendant presents a threat, and not when they’re simply making arguments the judge doesn’t like.

Such was the case in a Maryland criminal courtroom recently. A criminal defendant continued to argue his own legal theory, as unrepresented criminal defendants often do, after a judge told him to stop. But rather than threaten contempt, or just wait until the defendant was done with his argument, to stop him from talking, the judge ordered the defendant electrocuted, in open court. The judge then continued the trial, as if nothing had happened. The Judge has since been removed from the bench by the MD court of Appeals.

The events are similar to a 2004 incident in Utah, where a college professor who was known to be mentally ill, but not dangerous, was ordered to be seized by the judge. Although he was agitated, he threatened no one. Yet, he was severely and immediately electrocuted in open court, though it’s unknown if that was according to the judge’s orders.

Improper Uses of Electrocution Threaten Valuable Rights

Both of these cases demonstrate the improper usage of electronic control devices as torture mechanisms, used at best to subdue defendants who could easily be subdued other ways, and at worst, as a way to deal with the mentally ill who the courts don’t have the patience to deal with in any other manner than undue force. The mentally ill, who may be unfairly perceived as “scary,” and who may be less likely to understand the need to hire an attorney, or the courtroom rules, are at particular risk.

Aside from the obvious problems with tasering people in open court, the readiness of a court to electrocute a defendant presents serious threats to a defendant’s constitutional due process rights. A defendant has a right to a fair trial, and to defend himself in court. But a criminal defendant fearful of receiving 50,000 volts is more likely to be quiet and less likely to challenge witnesses or make arguments, even if they may not be legally sound ones anyway.

A criminal defendant tasered in front of a jury likely poisons the jury into thinking he is dangerous, ill, or more likely to have committed the crime he’s charged with.

Even the most unexpected situations can result in a loss of your constitutional rights. Don’t risk a criminal trial by going it alone. The criminal defense attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC have extensive experience with the rights of criminal defendants. If you or someone you know has been charged with a crime in Maryland, contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today.