Judge's public punishment cutting down on crime

Law enforcement: Controversial sentencing works in Bradford County

By Scott Johnson - Reporter, Jodi Mohrmann - Managing Editor of special projects

STARKE, Fla. - It's a warning to anyone in Bradford County to not drink and drive or shoplift. If you do, you could face public punishment from Judge Richard B. Davis.

"Another thing we do, we require in some cases, not i

n all, that there will be sign duty.  We reduce sign duty from 20 hours to about 2 hours, because we think that's about reasonable, and it's taken us awhile to kid of sort that out," Judge Davis said as he addressed his courtroom.

He has been working on this new sort of punishment for about a year for people arrested for DUI and Petty Theft. They sometimes can get the punishment of standing with a sign along State Road 301, the main drag through Bradford County, with a sign that either reads "I drove drunk" or one that reads  "I stole from a local merchant."

News4Jax was there when Joseph Andrews appeared before Judge Davis and was given sign duty for two hours.

"Well, I'm not too happy about it," said Andrews. "But, I do what I have to do to get past it."

Andrews graduated from Bradford High School in Starke in 1982 and has lived around here most of his life.  That means, when he stands out with his sign, he won't be an anonymous DUI offender that no one recognizes.  People around town know him.

"I didn't have the money to get an attorney and everything.  I was just trying to get it over with and took what they gave me to get it over with," he said.

One of the purposes of doing this public-style punishment is  to keep offenders from doing it again. But the courts are finding another benefit, too.  The Sheriff's Office says it appears t

o be cutting down on the number of people offending in the first place.

"The benefits are for people that haven't committed any type of crime, realizing that this is a consequence that could be paid if you decide to commit one of these crimes," explained Captain Brad Smith with the Bradford County Sheriff's Office.

Judge Davis says he's heard about other benefits of the punishment, too, which is often used instead of more severe fines or jail time.

"The Sheriff has told me out of the blue, just not last week, I think it was, that several parents have come up to him and have said, 'I've been driving around and my child saw this person with a sign and they asked me about it and wanted to know what it was about.'  And so, we had a really good talk about obeying the law and about what happens if you don't obey the law," Judge Davis told his courtroom.

But there are critics of the punishment, like William Nipper, who faced

the judge and thought he was pretty good guy, but disagrees with the sentencing.

"I think that's pretty low," Nipper said. "I  don't know why, embarrass somebody, I mean, why degrade somebody like that.  I don't understand why."

But for Andrews, embarrassed or not, he'll have to get past it because everyone in town will now know he drove drunk.

"I think it's kind of ridiculous, but that's just my opinion," said Andrews. " I'm not looking forward to it, but something I gotta do. Judge ordered it."

While this sign-holding

punishment is used sometimes as a way to give offenders a lesser sentence, in Andrews' case, he still received other punishments including 30 days in jail and a $2,000 fine.

News4Jax spoke with multiple legal analysts who say this public punishment is legal.  Nationally, there have been appeals courts that have upheld punishments like  these as long as there's a reason for the punishment beyond shaming.  One reason that has been cited is that this form of punishment cuts down on repeat offenses.

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