Judge Used Electric Shocks To Compel Defendant To Speak In Courtroom

A Texas judge used a stun belt, which delivers 50,000 volts of electricity, to compel a defendant to speak and behave in a courtroom in 2014.

A Texas judge used a cruel and unusual punishment to compel a defendant to answer his questions, a move that the state’s Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has deemed unconstitutional.

Judge George Gallagher used a stun belt on a defendant in 2014 in order to get Terry Lee Morris, an accused pedophile, to answer his questions. When Morris refused to answer in a way the judge deemed proper, Gallagher had the stun belt activated, doing so on at least three occasions.

A stun belt is typically placed on a defendant’s leg if they’re deemed a flight risk. If the defendant attempts to escape police custody, for instance, the stun belt can be activated, sending 50,000 volts of electric current into the person’s body, limiting their ability to flee.

Morris had the stun belt attached to his body, yet Gallagher did not use it to prevent the defendant from escaping, but rather to force Morris to speak about facts of the case, and to answer him in a way he deemed respectful to the court.

“We do not believe that trial judges can use stun belts to enforce decorum,” the ruling from the appellate court read. “A stun belt is a device meant to ensure physical safety; it is not an operant conditioning collar meant to punish a defendant until he obeys a judge's whim. This Court cannot sit idly by and say nothing when a judge turns a court of law into a Skinner Box, electrocuting a defendant until he provides the judge with behavior he likes.”

As a result of Gallagher’s actions, Morris’ conviction has been thrown out.

The exchange between the judge and the defendant reveals an unnecessary use of the stun belt in order to quell what Gallagher believed was inappropriate talk from Morris in 2014. Morris had filed a lawsuit against the judge and requested in court that the stun belt be removed.

“Are you going to follow the rules,” Gallagher asked.

“I have a lawsuit pending against you,” Morris responded.

“Hit him,” Gallagher ordered, signaling a deputy to shock the defendant.

After more back-and-forth, Gallagher asked, “Are you going to behave?”

“I have a history of mental illness,” Morris tried to explain.

“Hit him again,” Gallagher ordered.

A third shock was administered after Morris suggested he was being tortured by the court.

Some people have tried to justify Gallagher’s inhumane actions by saying Morris was making several outbursts earlier. Morris was a “loaded cannon ready to go off,” his own lawyer Bill Ray explained.

There are other means to temper a defendant, however. Gallagher could have held him in contempt, for example. Instead, the judge abused his power and rendered himself as an executioner of decorum in a cruel and unusual way, violating Morris’srights and inflicting a method of torture in the courtroom.

That cannot stand. Our nation’s judicial system is meant to uphold the law and deliver justice in a fair way. Judge Gallagher’s actions violated that tenet — and the appellate court was right to issue out their own ruling saying so.

Thumbnail/Banner Credits: Reuters, Benoit Tessier 

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