Apparently Judge Urbina on the federal district court in D.C. has developed his own alternative sentencing regime. He ordered criminal defendants to write a book.
The New York Times, in the opinion piece linked to above, thinks this is a bad idea. They think it isn’t terribly significant punishment and can be dispatched too quickly and with too much insincerity. Perhaps.
A publishing blog questions (without saying as much) whether such a condition of probation can be constitutional. With a headline “Torture reinstituted in Washington Courts” the MobyLives blog suggests that writing a book is the kind of thing a person cannot be ordered to do, comparing the requirement that the defendant write a book to being ordered to hit a home run at Nationals Park (which may not be the best metaphor, hitting a home run at Nationals Park seems to be pretty easy for many visiting teams, particularly in, say, the 8th inning).
A person can only be punished for willfully violating a condition of probation – if the defendant/author can’t write a book, he can’t be punished for not complying with his probation conditions. Perhaps this condition can’t be complied with (though, really, compared to spending time at your local Federal Correctional Institution, surely writing a book isn’t that hard).
Personally, I think it remedies one big problem with our criminal justice system – that the person who is caught up in the system is too often silenced. His lawyer tells him not to talk (for good reason), he often does not testify at his own trial (for good reason), and prosecutors and agents tend to think that anytime he’s talking he’s lying.
At least Judge Urbina wants people to tell their stories.
If you have questions about how federal criminal charges are different than state criminal charges, please visit this page on Maryland federal criminal charges or Washington DC federal criminal charges.