US judge removed from the bench after he instructs police to zap accused with a 50,000 volt electric shock
Judges must get slightly pissed off with the odd recalcitrant defendant — so it is understandable that their patience during some criminal trials might wear slightly thin.
But in one recent US courtroom drama, the judge lost his rag so profoundly that he ordered a local policeman to apply 50,000 volts of electric shock to what he clearly saw as an obstreperous and cantankerous accused. And — it emerged in the legal blogosphere last night — he has now been sacked.
The scene was a summer’s day last July in the Charles County Circuit Court in the sleepy Maryland town of La Plata. Presiding was Judge Robert Nalley, who himself comes with a bit of a reputation, but more on that later.
Appearing before the judge was Delvon King, who was accused of possessing an illegal gun. King was arguably not the easiest of defendants to deal with — he insisted on acting for himself, and earlier in the proceedings he had absconded.
Indeed, it was that bid for freedom that resulted in the authorities attaching a “stun-cuff” to King’s ankle (example pictured below).
Unlike UK tagging, this device is not designed to monitor movements, but to control them through force. If the wearer acts up, he can be zapped with an electric jolt strong enough to ensure he thinks twice about doing so again.
According to a report of the hearing in the Washington Post, King’s defence veered towards the vexatious — he made submissions to the effect that he was a “sovereign citizen”, for whom US laws did not apply — and he challenged Nalley’s legitimacy as a judge and his eligibility to sit on the Charles County bench.
When King persisted with increasingly verbose submissions, Judge Nalley ordered silence. When King continued, the judge ordered him to be zapped.
“Do it — use it,” he barked at Deputy Sheriff Charles Deehan, who pressed the stun-chuff zap button. The device failed at the first two attempts but sent 50,000 volts into King’s ankle tendon on the third go.
King screamed in pain and fell to the floor, according to those in the court. The court transcript actually reads:
The judge then asked if he were hurt and allowed him to sit through the remainder of the hearing.
Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, considering the US judicial system’s robust reputation, not everyone in Maryland was completely relaxed with Judge Nalley’s harsh approach to courtroom behaviour — with state public defender Paul DeWolfe calling for the judge to be chucked off the bench for his electrifying performance.
“For a judge to inflict physical pain for the sole purpose of silencing an individual is unacceptable,” said DeWolfe. “In a court of law, it is the judge’s responsibility to protect the rights of those involved in the process, not to violate them.”
Since the incident, which took place in July, the Maryland Court of Appeals has been moved to act. On Friday last week it sacked Judge Nalley and barred him from presiding over any cases in the state.
The order of the judge’s removal — which appeared yesterday on the Access to Justice blog — is below:
There is an amusing footnote to this tale. As mentioned earlier, Nalley is not a conventional judge. If any more evidence were required of his mercurial nature, then there is this historical tit-bit: four years ago he was suspended for five days without pay for deflating the tyres of a car parked in his courthouse space.