A judge who allows burglary victims to go to the thief's home and snatch his possessions says unconventional sentences can get a lawbreaker's attention in a big way.
"He learns what a good citizen feels like, worrying whether he's going to come home and find all his stuff still there," said Criminal Court Judge Joe B. Brown.Since his election two years ago, Brown has built a reputation as a tough, street-wise judge willing to try new things in sentencing criminals.
He has ordered several burglars to open their homes to former victims. With deputies in tow, they can take what they want, up to a limit set by Brown that approximates the value of what they lost.
One victim made several visits before he was satisfied.
"The first day he didn't find anything, but the second time he came back, he bagged a color television and a stereo-component set," the 44-year-old judge said in an interview Wednesday.
The sentences have raised eyebrows around the Memphis courthouse but have drawn few serious complaints from defense lawyers.
"He's been very creative," said Robert Jones, assistant administrator of the Shelby County public defender's office. "But a lot of things that have been done in the past aren't working, so somebody needs to be creative."
It may be difficult to tell, however, if items seized by a victim really belong to the burglar, said Scott Wallace of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
"If he sees a nice TV, it probably was heisted from sombody the week before," Wallace said Thursday from Washington.
Most of the lawbreakers brought before Brown are young, poor and uneducated. Clashes with authority often mean little but losing their personal possessions can hurt.
"They used to think bread and water was punishment in prison," Brown said. "But they stopped doing it when they realized the prisoners were bragging, `Yeah, man, I was on bread and water for 14 days, man. You know I'm bad.' "