Texas State District Judge George Gallagher

A convicted sex offender is getting a new trial because a Texas judge decided to go medieval on him during his trial.

Texas State District Judge George Gallagher ordered a bailiff to shock Terry Lee Morris several times during his trial on charges of soliciting sexual performance from a 15-year-old girl.

I don’t mean “shock” as in “surprise.” I mean shock as in deliver an electric current to his body. Morris was outfitted with a stun belt, which is used to deliver electric current to defendants who become violent during trial.

But Morris wasn’t violent. He just wouldn’t answer questions the way Gallagher wanted him to.

Answer the Question, Or Else …

During the trial, the judge ordered Morris to enter his plea, but the defendant instead told the judge he had filed a lawsuit against him. Gallagher threatened to have Morris shocked if he didn’t respond the way the judge wanted.

The judge continued: “Now, are you going to follow the rules?”

“Sir, I’ve asked you to recuse yourself,” said Morris.

Gallagher asked again: “Are you going to follow the rules?”

“I have a lawsuit pending against you,” responded Morris.

“Hit him,” Gallagher said to the bailiff.

The bailiff pressed the button that shocks Morris, and then Gallagher asked him again whether he is going to behave. Morris told Gallagher he had a history of mental illness.

“Hit him again,” the judge ordered.

Morris protested that he was being “tortured” just for seeking the recusal.

Gallagher asked the bailiff, “Would you hit him again?”

Morris was then removed from the courtroom, and he never returned. He was found guilty and sentenced to 60 years. But Morris appealed his conviction, saying the judge violated his constitutional rights by shocking him during his trial.

Sixth Amendment Violation

The Texas Eighth Court of Appeals agreed with Morris, threw out his conviction, and ordered a new trial.

The court said Morris did not return to the courtroom because he was afraid of being shocked again, and this effectively prohibited Morris from attending his own trial. The court determined that this is a violation of the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee of a defendant’s right to attend their trial and confront witnesses in court.

The appeals court said judges can’t shock defendants as punishment for not answering questions.

It seems, well, shocking that a judge would need an appeals court to inform him of this.

Cruel and Unusual Punishment

What about the Eighth Amendment, the one that says that “cruel and unusual punishments” will not be inflicted?

The appeals court said Morris’s Eighth Amendment rights were not violated because the amendment specifically prohibits cruel and unusual punishment after conviction.

Gallagher’s cruel and unusual punishment – and I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that shocking a defendant in court qualifies as cruel and unusual – happened before conviction, so the Eighth Amendment is not applicable.

The appeals court did, however, refer to Judge Gallagher’s actions as “barbarism.”

“We must speak out against it, lest we allow practices like these to affront the very dignity of the proceedings we seek to protect and lead our courts to drift from justice into barbarism,” the court wrote.

The court added, “This Court cannot sit idly by and say nothing when a judge turns a court of law into a Skinner Box, electrocuting a defendant until he provides the judge with behavior he likes.”

Above the Law…

As if we needed another reminder, judges, like prosecutors, are above the law.

What? The judge has to maintain control in his courtroom, right? The judge is the law…

Applying electric shocks to a person without legal justification is, at best, assault and battery. At worst, it’s torture. Who does that with impunity? With no fear of arrest, lawsuit, or any consequences whatsoever?

A judge.

As far as I can tell, Texas State District Judge George Gallagher is still on the bench, still trying criminal cases, has not been disciplined, cannot be sued, and, of course, will not be charged with any crime. Welcome to America.

SC Criminal Defense Lawyer in Myrtle Beach, Columbia, and Lexington

I’ve never had a judge repeatedly shock a client during trial, and I can’t tell you how I would react if I was in the courtroom and witnessed it. I understand the reasoning for shock belts, but it should also go without saying that the shock belt is not there for a judge to amuse himself by torturing a defendant.  

Criminal defense and DUI defense attorney Lacey Thompson accepts criminal defense cases in the Columbia, Lexington, Conway, and Myrtle Beach SC areas. Call at 843-444-6122 or fill out our online contact form if you have questions or to set up a free initial consultation.

 

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