Friday, May 4, 2012

Bully in a robe

Last June Michael Giacona got behind the wheel of his van after drinking and ended up in an accident that claimed the life of Aaron Pennywell. Mr. Giacona was charged with a misdemeanor DWI because investigators could not determine who was at fault for the accident.

As part of a plea, Mr. Giancona was sentenced to one year in the Harris County Jail. After 90 days, Judge Michael Fields ordered that Mr. Giancona be released from jail and placed on probation. The terms of that probation included standing at the intersection where the accident occurred on four consecutive Saturdays wearing a sign that said "I killed Aaron Pennywell while driving drunk."

On the first Saturday of his public humiliation, Mr. Giacona was confronted by hostile passers-by and passing cars. It seems that Judge Fields' idea of punishment was to expose Mr. Giacona to bodily injury. Sanity later prevailed in County Criminal Court at Law No. 14 and Judge Fields suspended the public humiliation.

As part of the terms of probation, Judge Fields also ordered Mr. Giacona to write a letter to Mr. Pennywell's parents apologizing for killing their son. This past Wednesday, Mr. Giacona told Judge Fields that he would rather return to jail than apologize to Mr. Pennywell's parents.

Now let's remember that the Harris County District Attorney's Office didn't charge Mr. Giacona with intoxication manslaughter because they couldn't prove that the accident was the result of Mr. Giancona driving while intoxicated. In other words, no one could determine - beyond a reasonable doubt - who was responsible for the accident. While his refusal to apologize does not make Mr. Giacona a sympathetic figure, following the judge's order would result in an admission of fault for the accident. That admission of fault would (all but) guarantee a recovery in a civil suit for wrongful death.

But that's nothing to ordering a man to humiliate himself and expose himself to injury. Judge Fields' order that Mr. Giacona must stand at the intersection holding a sign announcing that he killed Mr. Pennywell does nothing to further justice. The purpose of punishment in our criminal (in)justice system is to rehabilitate, deter or punish. It is not to humiliate a person. The order to carry the sign was gratuitous. It was a way of telling a defendant that I can make you do whatever I want you to do - and you can't do a damn thing about it. Judge Fields was angry that Mr. Giacona couldn't get more than a year in the county jail. Oh well. A judge's job is to act as an impartial arbiter at trial and, if requested, to order a punishment that is appropriate under the circumstances.

Whether the judge approves of the charge filed against the defendant is of no concern. Imposing a harsher punishment because you think someone should have been charged with a more serious crime is wrong. Ordering someone to humiliate themselves is the act of a bully.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Your correct ,
Also the letter that was ordered written , was an apology to the family wherein he had to admit that he caused the crash and death of their son by drinking , speeding through the intersection and crashing into the victims vehicle

Anonymous said...

Mr. Kennedy, thank you for your post. You are one of a few that are not part of the lynch mob. And thank you to Anonymous 1 for posting further details on the letter. Isn't it strange that the media didn't report the full truth about the letter? Other facts that the media has elected to keep silent on: apparently Aaron was also DUI (drugs) and the terms of shock probation were not the judge's idea (Kay Pennywell's). On the Pennywell's FB page, they have lied, slandered MG's innocent family and children and admitted to sending a film crew to harrass his family. Their ill-use of the media has caused unwarranted stress, humiliation and life threatening situations to innocent people, including small children. This was an awful tragedy no one denies but their (judge's and Pennywell's) vengeful, hateful tactics are inexcusable.

Bryces Battle said...

To Anonymous... WELL SAID!

Peter said...

Horrendous abuse of power. Justice rises from the law, not an individual judge's vigilante rulings.

Anonymous said...

It appears Judge Michael Fields has a bias in this case . Why would he turn over his robe to the Pennywell family ? This is UNBELIEVABLE, Order someone to PUBLIC HUMILIATION in a misdemeanor DWI case . Justice Denied in this case .. This was not about rehabilitation, to deter or punish, it was all about Humiliation, Michael Giacona's civil rights were violated by a Bully in a Robe. I'm still shaking my head on this one ...

Anonymous said...

This judge Fields is the most corrupt and bad judge I have ever known. He's rotten to the core. He is an activist and should be de-benched!

Anonymous said...

I completely agee. He claims he is not a racist from his debacle with his colleagues from the Harris county courthouse where he blamed some judges of racist remarks, but he is every bit a racist himself and does not make sound judicial decisions nor does he come up with any sound decision for that matter. I would never appear in his court.

Anonymous said...

I completely agee. He claims he is not a racist from his debacle with his colleagues from the Harris county courthouse where he blamed some judges of racist remarks, but he is every bit a racist himself and does not make sound judicial decisions nor does he come up with any sound decision for that matter. I would never appear in his court.

Anonymous said...

Giacona's BAC was .241 and the investigation revealed he was going 27 mph over the speed limit. He was involved in the wreck where Pennywell was killed and he was driving drunk, therefore he killed Aaron Pennywell, whether he was charged with manslaughter or not. What about the 911 call where the neighbor says "He is going to kill somebody" as Giacona drives off in his van. He won't drive drunk again after his 2nd offense DWI and the one Saturday of sign duty.

Anonymous said...

I know Mike from a long time ago, he's a really good person and does not deserve to have his name drug through the mud by the Penneywell's or the judge. Good for him for not writing the letter

Anonymous said...

I guess everyone here is a dwi lawyer. The post noted:

"The purpose of punishment in our criminal (in)justice system is to rehabilitate, deter or punish."

What this judge did is try to do the latter two. Hopefully, this man will not kill again, but if he has 2 dwi's, you can bet he drives awfully drunk quite often. Unless you think this guy is just unlucky on the few occasions he decided to get slop drunk and drive.

I applaud the judge and the family for trying to rein in this menace.

Paul B. Kennedy said...

There is a difference between deterrence and humiliation. Ordering someone to carry a sign identifying them as a convicted criminal is akin to the colonial tradition of locking someone in the stocks in the public square. The sole purpose is to humiliate - and humiliation has no role in our criminal justice system.