Commit a Crime, Do the Time -- in a Chicken Suit

Some judges are issuing outrageous punishments to better fit crimes committed.

ByABC News via logo
January 8, 2009, 1:17 AM

Aug. 11, 2007 — -- At first glance, a man in a bird costume may look like a walking billboard for fast food. But for one Painesville, Ohio, man, it's actually a form of punishment for soliciting a prostitute.

The outrageous punishment was handed down by Judge Mike Cicconetti, inspired by the Chicken Ranch Brothel in the movie "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas."

"If it causes a little bit of embarrassment, then so what," Cicconetti said. "I found out that the traditional sentences, the jail time and a fine -- those weren't working."

The judge has been thinking outside the 8-by-10 box for years. He wants to make sure the punishments fit the crimes. Cicconetti ordered one woman to spend a night out in the cold, her payback for abandoning 33 kittens in the dead of winter, nine of which died.

Just before delivering her punishment, Cicconetti asked, "How would you like to be dumped off in the Metro Park at night, listening to the coyotes up on you, listening to the raccoons around you?"

To Cicconetti, the unusual punishments are no laughing matter. He contends he's relieving an overcrowded jail system and at the same time sending a stern message.

"So many of these cases have received media attention. The people in this community know that if you come into this court, you never know what's going to happen," Cicconetti said. "It does deter conduct for our community, and that's who I have to answer to."

Most states only allow judges to put their personal stamps on penance for misdemeanors. But in some cases, judges are weighing in with personal punishments for more serious crimes as well.

A Houston judge made a man carry a sign that read, "I killed a child while drunk driving," while another offender was sent off to yoga classes for abusing his wife.

Many defendants complain the creativity is merely grandstanding or abuse of power, and some lawyers question its overall impact, saying these types of "scarlet letter" sentences have no place in modern society.

"It can make light of the justice system. I don't see that it works, I see that it's demeaning to the defendant, possibly would deter them from committing those crimes in the future, but I don't think it necessarily deters other people," said Lisa Bloom, an attorney and an anchor with Court TV.