United States v. Gementera, 379 F.3d 596 (2004)

Case Name: United States v. Gementera
Citation: 379 F.3d 596 (2004)

Facts: Gementera stole mail and plead guilty to mail theft. He had a long criminal history for a twenty-four year old. The U.S. Sentencing Guidelines recommended a two to eight month incarceration. The judge sentencedGementera to two months incarceration and three years supervised release. One of the conditions of the release was 100 hours of community service that would consist of standing in front of a post office with a sandwich board that state “I stole mail. This is my punishment.” After another hearing, other options were added for the community service (i.e. writing apology letters and speaking at local schools) and the sandwich board activity was diminished to one day of eight hours.

Issue: Whether a punishment that shames or humiliates serves a legitimate objective and is reasonably related to the nature and circumstances of the offense and the history and characteristics of the defendant.

Defendant’s argument: The punishment was meant for the impermissible purpose of humiliation; in violation of a federal statute. Also, that the humiliation was not “reasonably related” to rehabilitation.

State’s argument: The humiliation was not an “ends” in itself but a “means” to the legitimate objective for the defendant to understand the seriousness of his crime (that it was not a victimless crime). It is also reasonably related to offense and the history of the defendant.

Court’s reasoning: The district court seemed to think that the defendant did not understand the seriousness of his crime. There is still academic debate whether “shaming” works to rehabilitate the criminal and prevent others from committing a crime as opposed to recidivism.  The district court did not have to display scientific evidence that this type of punishment was effective.

Holding: The condition was reasonably related to the statutory objective of rehabilitation.

Dissent: The sandwich board condition violates the Sentencing Reform Act. Furthermore, this “shaming” goes to dehumanize the defendant not rehabilitate. Affirming the condition “recalls a time in our history when pillories and stocks were the order of the day.”


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