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United States v. Gementera

    Brief Fact Summary. Gementera (D) pleaded that the Government had violated the Sentencing Reform Act by requiring him to wear a sign specifying his crime in a public place for 8 hours as part of the required 100 hours of public service.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Making a convict wear a sign specifying his crime in a public place is related in a reasonable way to the objective of rehabilitation as stated in the statute, and so is proper under the Sentencing Reform Act.

    Facts. Gementera (D) was a convict with a previous criminal record. His present crime was stealing mail. The judge sentenced him in the lower bracket of the Sentence Reform Act. He was released under supervision, one part of the condition being 100 hours of community service, including eight hours of standing before a post office on one day, with a sign which said, “I stole mail. This is my punishment.” He appealed it as a violation of the Sentencing Reform Act.

    Issue. Is making a convict wear a sign in public stating his crime a reasonable way to achieve the legally required goal of rehabilitation, so that it is a proper sentence under the Sentencing Reform Act?

    Held. (O’Scanlain, J.) Yes. Making a convict wear a sign specifying his crime in a public place is related in  a reasonable way to the objective of rehabilitation as stated in the statute, and so is proper under the Sentencing Reform Act. In this case, the district judge carefully and specifically outlined a logical plan of sentencing which had as its conclusion the set of conditions, including the signboard requirement, and also other reintegration provisions, which would better serve to rehabilitate Gementera and help him amend his life, than a long term of imprisonment. Crimes and penalties mostly result in shame and embarrassment,  and this is not necessarily a reason to object to the punishment or to one of its conditions. Even if the signboard requirement was not very refined in its operation, it was accompanied by other useful conditions like lecturing at a high school and writing apologies. Taken all together, these might be understood to be tools tailored to the offender, which would promote Gementera’s rehabilitation as a useful and acceptable member of society. Thus the condition is related in a reasonable manner to the aim of rehabilitation. The verdict is affirmed.

    Dissent. (Hawkins, J.) This condition is one which induces humiliation rather than deterrence or rehabilitation. It is therefore not in accordance with the goals of the Sentencing Reform Act. Producing a shameful condition in another person is lowering them in society’s esteem and robbing them of human dignity. This is not a judicial role.

    Concurrence. N/A

    Discussion. Judicial and scholarly review is divided as to whether producing shame in a person as a means of punishment is proper or not. One school of thought is that every punishment for crime always carries a burden of shame and social stigma which might deter others from crime, and thus the shame may serve a lawful and necessary public interest and is in accordance with the aim of criminal law. This is especially seen to be true as regards crime in the lower sections of society. The other view is that shame may brand a person negatively, sometimes irrevocably changing social perceptions regarding that person, and such humiliation is not a legitimate role of courts or of the lawmaking system. In Gementera, the supreme courtheld the balance narrowly between the two, since it ruled that the shaming sanction was only part of a much wider net of conditions which were specifically aimed at the offender’s special situation and needs.


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