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Why an Ohio judge believes ‘eye for an eye’ justice is better than jail time

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Municipal Court Judge Michael Cicconetti, of Painesville, Ohio, has made a career of doling out creative punishments for the unlucky offenders who end up in his courtroom.

The humiliating punishments, which range from the macabre to the mundane, read like they were plucked from a book of ancient fables dusted off for the purpose of administering modern moral lessons.

There was the time he forced a woman who abandoned sickly kittens to spend a night alone in the woods without water, food or entertainment.

Or the time a man caught with a loaded gun was ordered to go to the local morgue to view corpses.

On another occasion in 2002, a man who had referred to a police officer as a “pig” was order to stand beside a live pig with a sign that read “This is not a police officer.”

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In his latest example of eye for an eye justice, Cicconetti ordered a suspect who pepper-sprayed someone in the face to endure the same painful treatment before his courtroom, according to ABC affiliate WEWS-TV. Unbeknownst to the offender, the pepper-spray was switched out with a harmless saline solution, according to the Associated Press.

“If you’re assaulted by somebody, you’d like to be in court and assault them back,” Cicconetti told the offender, according to WEWS.

The victim, the station noted, was ready for payback.

“He goes, ‘I’d really like to use pepper spray,’ and I said, ‘No, no, we can’t do that!’ ” Cicconetti added.

The offender may have gotten off easy, but many people, including a woman who came before him later that day, are not so lucky, according to the AP:

In another case he handled Thursday, a woman who failed to pay a cab driver was given a choice between jail time or paying $100 restitution and walking 30 miles, the distance of her ride. She chose to walk and will do so at a fairgrounds, wearing a GPS monitor, WEWS said.

Cicconetti has been handing out unorthodox punishments since the mid-1990’s, according to the News-Herald.

“We started small,” he told the paper in 2012. “It was more out of frustration because after a year or two years, we were seeing the same people come back, with the same offenses. I thought, ‘There has to be a better way to do this.’ Some people, let’s face it, you’re never going to deter their conduct. It took me awhile to figure that out, too. I can’t be the savior of all, because some people don’t want to be saved.”

Cicconetti’s creative punishments are reserved for a small percentage of first-time offenders and always come with an alternative sentence, usually jail time, community service, fines or some combination thereof.

The judge maintains he sees very few repeat offenders, according to the News-Herald. Among the few repeat offenders, he told the paper, was Michael Logar, a man who ran fled from police in his vehicle and was ordered to run in a local race to reduce his six-month jail sentence.

Logar was later arrested for stealing a woman’s purse and ended up in prison.

“He was one of the very few that had a prior criminal record,” Cicconetti told the News-Herald. “It was a gamble, and it was a bad gamble on my part.”

The instance in which a woman was ordered to spend a night alone in the woods nearly went awry as well. After banishing the offender to a remote section of a local park on a cold November night, Cicconetti was watching a weather broadcast that evening and noticed that a blizzard was expected to blanket the area.

“That almost turned out to be a disaster,” he told the News-Herald. “When I put her in the woods that night, the forecast wasn’t that bad.”

“At midnight, I said, ‘That’s it. I can’t do this anymore.’ It was too treacherous and dangerous, so she had to spend the rest of the night in jail,” he added.

Cicconetti’s critics argue the provocative punishments are designed to grab headlines, but legal experts argue that there can be unique benefits to alternative justice, according to Jonathan Witmer-Rich, a professor of criminal law at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law.

Beyond saving the public money required to jail an offender, he pointed out that unconventional punishment often forces the offender to interact more closely with the community of people that they’ve harmed.

“This is a form of public shaming,” Witmer-Rich told the Plain Dealer. “Judges are increasingly using that as an additional way to send a message.”

“Judges have a lot of discretion at sentencing but it also means they cannot abuse their discretion,” he added. “I think it is important the judges don’t go too far, but I do think it can be an effective and creative form of punishment.”

Among Cicconetti’s success stories is the man who was forced to spend a day with a pig. The onetime offender, the News-Herald reported, has stayed out of trouble and even developed an unlikely affinity for the judge.

“The Pig Man comes in every once in awhile just to say hello, or he yells at me on the street, hello,” Cicconetti told the News-Herald. “He even calls me and wants to go to lunch, and I have. That’s what makes the job worthwhile. People coming in 10 years later saying they turned their lives around.”

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