DUI’s Scarlet Letter


Some Texas judges, in their relatively broad sentencing discretion, have taken to shaming DUI offenders into rehabilitation. But is the intent to rehabilitate or to actually punish by embarrassment?

In Houston, Texas, earlier this year Michael Giacona, 39, plead guilty to one count of driving under the influence after crashing his full-sized van into a Mustang driven by Aaron Coy Pennywell. Pennywell, 20, was ejected from his vehicle and died at the scene. Giacona paid a $500 fine and served three months of a one year jail sentence. The shortened jail time was the result of a “shock probation” program created by the state legislature intended to “scare” certain offenders into rehabilitation after a short period of incarceration.

Following Giacona’s selection for shock probation and early release, Judge Michael Fields expressed concern over whether Giacona had actually been rehabilitated. According to a court transcript, the judge admonished to Giacona, “Quite frankly, I am concerned about you and this decision. You make me nervous, and the reason you make me nervous is I believe what the witnesses said about your behavior that evening: That you were, even after killing someone, still looking to get more alcohol.”

The judge ordered Giacona to wear a sign at the intersection of the accident that read “I KILLED AARON COY PENNYWELL WHILE DRIVING DRUNK.” The shaming was to take place from 9am to 5pm every Saturday for a month.

Following the first Saturday of shaming, Judge Fields was going to reconsider his ex post facto probation condition because Giacona was being verbally harassed and there was fear that the harassment would lead to physical violence. Who saw that coming? [sarcasm]

Before the judge could proceed, Giacona was sent to jail for the remainder of his sentence because he refused to write an apology letter to the victim’s family. “Why would he be sent back to jail for this?” you might ask. Because it was another court-required condition of probation.

Among the other conditions of probation: requiring Giacona to display a large framed picture of the victim’s wrecked vehicle in his living room. If that weren’t enough, Judge Fields allowed “random, unscheduled home visits” by a community supervision officer to ensure that the picture was where it was supposed to be.

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