Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Making Felon Put Up Sign Ruled Illegal Illinois High Court Decision May Chill Shame Punishment

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Making Felon Put Up Sign Ruled Illegal Illinois High Court Decision May Chill Shame Punishment

Article excerpt

A trial judge cannot force a felon to post a warning sign on his property, the Illinois State Supreme Court ruled Thursday in a decision expected to chill so-called "shame punishment" in that state and perhaps elsewhere.

The ruling held that Circuit Judge Thomas L. Brownfield went beyond his authority in ordering farmer Glenn Meyer to post a 4-by-8-foot sign at the end of his lane near Pittsfield, Ill., about 75 miles north of St. Louis.

"WARNING. A VIOLENT FELON LIVES HERE. TRAVEL AT YOUR OWN RISK," it said in hand-printed capitals. Meyer can take it down immediately, said his lawyer, Judith Libby, who successfully argued that scorn is an archaic and ineffective penalty. In a unanimous decision, the court said, "The sign contains a strong element of public humiliation or ridicule because it serves as a formal, public announcement of the defendant's crime. Thus, the sign is inconsistent with the conditions of probation listed (in the statute), none of which identifies public notification or humiliation as a permissible condition." Justices also said the sign was a hardship on Meyer's family and "may have unpredictable or unintended consequences," which they did not describe. The opinion follows the reasoning of the Tennessee Supreme Court, which last year said a child molester did not have to post such a sign. Observers in Missouri said its courts seem to have no comparable case. Meyer's was the first test to reach Illinois' top court. The decision is not binding in other states but may be used, like Tennessee's, as a guidepost. Court precedents on shame punishment around the country have been mixed. An Illinois appellate court, for example, held that a drunken driver could not be forced to put her photo and apology in a newspaper. In New York, a drunken driver was spared the shame of a fluorescent bumper sticker. …

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