Texas Judge's Answer to Man's Antics: Shock Belt

Defendant with mental illness wouldn't stand up
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 28, 2015 12:57 PM CDT
Texas Judge's Answer to Man's Antics: Shock Belt
This undated booking photo shows James Calvert, 45.   (Smith County Sheriff's Office)

A capital murder trial put on hold after a literal shock will resume in Smith County, Texas, on Monday and for the first time, defendant James Calvert will not represent himself. After Calvert was accused of murdering ex-wife Jelena Sriraman and abducting their 4-year-old son in October 2012, the 45-year-old chose to represent himself. A rep for the Texas Defender Service tells NBC News Calvert is mentally ill and "people with a history of mental illness are supposed to show a much higher level of competence" than he has in order to do so. Even so, Calvert defended himself until Sept. 15, when he received a shock from the shock belt Judge Jack Skeen had ordered he wear in court for safety reasons, reports Reuters. It isn't clear who ordered the shock, but it followed several outbursts noted by Skeen, who seemed to lose patience with Calvert as the hearing progressed.

At one point, Calvert laughed out loud and Skeen told him that another outburst would mean he'd be removed from court by "whatever means they have to control you," reports KLTV. When Calvert afterward refused to stand while speaking to the judge, a deputy administered a shock that caused Calvert to scream for five seconds. Skeen then ended Calvert's self-representation. "I should have done this a lot sooner," he said, per KLTV. "I don't have to take it. You're out." A Smith County sheriff's lieutenant says a shock belt is commonly put on defendants at jury trials. "It's really pretty effective when we use it. It's kind of like a Taser," he says. However, legal experts say the belt is only to be used "if the defendant poses an immediate security risk," per Reuters, which means the judge could be penalized and Calvert could be granted an appeal if he is convicted. "This is just a travesty of justice as far as I'm concerned," a lawyer says. (More Texas stories.)

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