Denied, With Extreme Prejudice (Update)

“…do it,” Nalley ordered. “Use it.”


Have you ever wondered what would happen if a judge, clothed in immunity, became so annoyed by an argument that he whipped out his Glock from under his robes and plugged the litigant between the eyes?  Who hasn’t felt that, right?

Except Maryland Circuit Court Judge Robert C. Nalley, the same one who got caught deflating the tire of the miscreant who had the audacity to park in his space, acted upon it.  No Glock, and it wasn’t actually at his own hand, but he gave the order.  And Mr. Sheriff was only too happy to comply.

Via the Baltimore Post-Examiner, by way of Gideon, pro se litigant Devlon King was trying to argue his cause in a gun case, which had already proven sufficiently annoying to get him pushed from his trial judge to Nalley.

King began jury selection in front of Circuit Court Judge Amy J. Bragunier, the chief administrative judge in Charles County Circuit Court. Apparently Judge Bragunier has a very short fuse and she quickly got irritated with the defendant’s citing to legal precedent1, so she interrupted jury selection and sent it over to retired Judge Robert C. Nalley to complete jury selection.

Per Gid, King was a “sovereign citizen,” which means his arguments are always good for lulz, provided you aren’t the person whose job it is to address the insanity.  If you aren’t clear what it means to be a sovereign citizen, then you don’t appreciate the fringes on the flag, conclusively proving you’re before a maritime court with no jurisdiction over the corporate entity that the government has imposed in place of your humanity. Heh.

Crazy though they may be, they remain two things. Human beings and Americans, meaning that you still don’t get to be so annoyed with their insanity that this happens:

The defendant was trying to cite a court case, and Nalley cut him off.

“Stop,” Nalley said, according to the transcript.

“… principles of common right and common reason are …” King said.

“Mr. Sheriff … ” Nalley said

“… null and void,” King continued.

“…do it,” Nalley ordered. “Use it.”


On Nalley’s order, a uniformed Charles County Sheriff’s Department officer pressed a button, which released a charge from an electronic device authorities had attached to King’s right leg. King crumpled to the ground in agony.

While King’s argument may have less than fully grounded in law, so too is that attachment of an “electronic device” to his right leg.  A device?  Like a shock collar? Like they use on dogs?  Used on a pro se criminal defendant in a court in the United States of America? Per Gid:

Can they do this? They can, obviously, in the sense that they just did. But I’ve never heard of a security measure in courts where they put shock collars on defendants. That’s just the most horrifying method of ensuring compliance and subjugating those that appear before them, seeking justice. Usually, defendants are handcuffed in court for security reasons and that makes sense, but anything more than that requires a showing that the defendant is a threat.

But electrocution? That’s a shocker.

Maybe this is just how they roll in Maryland, but I’ve never heard of such a thing either.  And despite thinking so hard I nearly sprained something, I can conceive of no lawful basis to impose corporal punishment on a litigant because he annoyed the judge.  If he poses a threat of violence, he can be cuffed, even shackled, but that’s to prevent him from causing harm, not to shut him up or to teach him a lesson on how to behave in a manner that pleases the judge, upon pain of electrical shock.

Sure, there are times a defendant has been muzzled to stop outbursts in court, and it’s not uncommon for disruptive defendants to be removed from the courtroom, but King was defending himself pro se, as is his right.  Just because he makes crazy arguments, frivolous arguments, really annoying arguments, provides no justification to cause him deliberate pain.

The insanity that happened in that courtroom, and no, I’m not talking about King’s sovereign citizen views but that a judge ordered a defendant shocked, with the added plus of Mr. Sheriff doing it, is beyond comprehension.  Clearly, Nalley has no business on the bench, his magnificently intemperate order proving conclusively.  But this is far deeper, far worse than one judge with anger issues.  They use a friggin’ shock collar there!

As lawyers, we try desperately to make a crazy system grind as well as it possibly can, accepting the never-ending stream of flaws and brick walls of antagonism toward us and our clients, and trying to eke out whatever we can to preserve constitutional rights.  But if I ever end up on a Maryland court and somebody tries to put a shock collar on my right leg, because, you know, that’s what they do there if my arguments piss off the judge a bit too much, I’m drawing a line.

And the worst part about this craziness is that it’s unclear that there is anything, anything at all, that King can do about it.   So if you think sovereign citizens are nuts, consider that this is what happens in an American court.  The crazy is not mutually exclusive.

Update: With the kind help of Susan Bryant, I’ve learned that there is a world in the trenches with which I am blissfully unfamiliar.  Apparently, “stun belts” are hardly just a Maryland thing, and they’re also used in New York, despite the fact that I live such a shallow and empty legal life that I knew nothing about them.

And indeed, the New York Court of Appeals has approved their use, per People v. Buchanon, but only after “a finding of specific facts justifying the use of such a restraint. ”  Whether a specific finding that the defendant is “really, really, REALLY, annoying” satisfies this test remains unclear.


35 thoughts on “Denied, With Extreme Prejudice (Update)

  1. Mike

    Would it be possible for a lawyer to submit an ethics complaint to the MD bar against the judge because of this incident?

      1. Scott Lockwood III

        Well then, shouldn’t someone do exactly that? Yes, King cannot be helped, but the next poor deranged sucker can be, and the consequences of not doing that could be really ugly. Those nuts have guns, and believing themselves immune to our law, are shockingly willing to use them.

        1. SHG Post author

          By calling attention to impropriety, that’s what people who write about things like this. It’s fine to talk of the next poor deranged sucker, and of course it shouldn’t happen again, but there are plenty of people who suffer, only to learn that there is nothing the law offers them. That has to change as well.

  2. trog69

    I find the whole SC business to be inane and basically trolling on fellow, non-“sovereign” citizens, but I have no problem seeing the judge/sheriffs actions as beyond the pale. Outrageous.

    1. SHG Post author

      What do you mean by “basically trolling on fellow, non-‘sovereign’ citizens”? You lost me on that part.

    1. Terry M.

      You know you laugh at who is getting the illegal shock treatment. But while our Constitution is being shredded, you might want to zip up your laughter and try to figure out with the rest of us, what the Hell are we going to do to save it.

      1. SHG Post author

        Unless you pay the freight here (and you don’t), it’s not your place to tell anyone else to “zip up.” And you, I might add, are not part of the “rest of us” here. You’re a guest here. Act like it or get lost.

  3. Richard G. Kopf


    Once in a very greal while the US Marshals will use these devices, but they are not collars but belts wrapped around the midsection. For example, in a very nasty rape and kidnnaping case involving physical harm to the victim, the violent defendant attacked his lawyer in front of the jury. If I recall correctly, the device was triggered to restrain the defendant from harming his lawyer. Point is there are times when these devices are useful for the safety of everyone, but the case you highlight does not seem like one these.

    By the way, the “shock collar around the lawyer’s neck image” frequently takes center stage when I have a sweet dream. In my (dark) subconcious, the lawyer barks when stunned, rolls on the ground, and gesticulates as if desiring to be tickled on the belly. Particulary after a day listening to a child-lawyer for a career offender, with “sociopath” written in magic marker on the defendant’s forhead, argue for some extreme form of leniency because the defendant “isn’t as bad as his rap sheet indicates,” I find that the “shock collar” imagery soothing much like a lullaby. In my dream, I never give a trigger warning. But that’s just me.

    All the best.


  4. Jake DiMare

    If these ‘sovereign citizens’ were just a little more sophisticated and a little less arrogant they might realize that hiding your assets from the federal government while enjoying all the benefits and freedoms of residing in this country is neither difficult nor original. Hell, you can even hide dizzying amounts of wealth in a Caribbean nation while running for President.

    But I digress. So I do not suffer the online version of an SG shock for changing the subject: Yeah – Shocking someone for talking seems a little barbaric.

      1. Jake DiMare

        Today, as a result of all the free education you have given me, I violate the SJ rules with full knowledge of my transgression. I shall be neither surprised nor saddened when the hammer is dropped.

  5. eugene strupinsky

    Just aweful, and I’m sure there’s disciplinary and/or civil remedies against the Judge. All I wanted to add to this discussion is the irony of the hidden shock devise. Its use is, in fact, a “favor” to defendants.

    Those defendants who have been found violent, or unable to behave appropriately in court used to be shackled, gagged, excluded, etc. The hidden shock collar is a compromise meant to allow the benefit of being present at one’s own trial without prejudicing the jury by the use of visible restraints.

    Therefore, there was no need to use it for pre-trial, and it’s certainly not meant as a punitive, shut-your-mouth device. When a judge wants a person to stop talking, so long as they’re not violent, he should use the same means they have against others. Thus, the use of the taser seems particularly improper.

    1. SHG Post author

      “…and I’m sure there’s disciplinary and/or civil remedies against the Judge.”

      Why would you be “sure.” Did you have a dream? You would do best to avoid saying something like “you’re sure” when you mean to say “I haven’t got the slightest clue.” They are not the same. Nor does the existence of the shock collar mean they don’t use cuffs, shackles, gags, etc. Aside from that, your point is well taken.

    2. Dave Susens

      Besides being a “sovereign citizen” was there any sort of finding that this guy presented a substantial danger to warrant the use of a stun belt? Is the potential for merely disruptive behavior enough to slap one on?

      One of the problems with the “compromise” is that the defendant still knows that he or she could be electrocuted at any given second at the push of a button. He or she has a right to be presumed innocent and still has a 6th Amendment and _____________ (insert appropriate state constitutional provision here) right to participate in his or her own defense by consulting with his or her attorney and taking the stand to testify. The stun belt has a strong potential to affect his or her demeanor in the courtroom. Even though the device may be hidden, this does not eliminate the potential prejudicial effect of a juror wondering why the defendant sat oddly still without any emotional reaction to that shocking evidence that the state just introduced or why he or she just looked so damn stiff and uncomfortable while testifying. Must be guilty.

      Moreover, defendants can’t fully exercise those rights if they fear that leaning over to make a comment to counsel or having some animation on the stand might cause a trigger happy Deputy/Officer/Marshall Friendly to go into shock mode.

      Not much of a “favor” if you ask me.

      1. SHG Post author

        Excellent point about its impact on a defendant’s demeanor and limited physical movements before a jury.

      2. sorrykb

        On top of that, how can a pro se defendant in particular present a defense when he has the constant fear that at any time he could be shocked, simply for speaking out of turn, or asking what the judge thinks is an inappropriate question, or by accident (as has happened in cases before involving stun belts used during trials)? It’s not just going to affect his physical demeanor, it’ll also affect his ability to cross-examine witnesses, etc.

          1. sorrykb

            Fair point. (I was trying to be nice to the poor lost defendant.)
            But they have also put stun belts on non-pro se defendants while they were testifying. And, oddly enough, the fear of electroshock torture tended to make the defendants appear nervous and somehow lacking in credibility…

            1. SHG Post author

              That was Susens’ point. And my snark aside, if a defendant is pro se, he must have the opportunity to do his best, even if that isn’t much, without fear of punishment for saying something annoying, so you’re right on all counts.

  6. ShelbyC

    Even when a shocking is necessary for legitimate security reasons, why would a judge have the authority to order a defendant shocked under any circumstances? I thought court officers were responsible for court security. I could see the judge being required to approve a shocking, but why would he be able to order one? By way of analogy, a court officer might find it necessary to hit a defendant with a baton in an emergency. But I wouldn’t think a judge could order a court officer to hit the defendant with a baton.

  7. Jennifer

    If you’re keeping score – I represented a criminal defendant in Georgia who had to wear a shock belt during his trial. The deputy stood nearby with his finger on a button. (My client was never actually shocked.)

  8. KP

    I do hear the sovereign citizen arguments about our justice systems being based on maritime law and countries being corporations, and even the ones where they point out you are a slave of the State once registered at birth… I see lots of mainstream organisations belittling these views, but I’ve never heard clear counter-arguments pointing out why they are wrong and what the real situation is.

    This usually mens they are right, a threat to the whole idea of a State, and hence to be top of the list for elimination, higher than drugs, wars or terrorism, of wars on other States. You definately need to shut these people up when they are such a threat to your lifestyle!

    The comment about “the freedoms of America” is very amusing too.

    1. SHG Post author

      “…but I’ve never heard clear counter-arguments pointing out why they are wrong and what the real situation is.”

      If you haven’t, you haven’t paid attention. It’s totally batshit crazy. If you want more, google it. This isn’t an opportunity to discuss such nonsense. In the same vein, we will similarly not discuss why the earth isn’t flat, why the moon landing wasn’t faked and why Elvis isn’t still alive. Crazy elsewhere.

  9. UltravioletAdmin

    While this is obviously a bad thing and a likely abuse of the device, I do have trouble feeling bad for sovereign citizen wackiness. And while I hope this can decrease the crazy so that the Sovereign Citizens will sit down and stop thinking their argument is magic; the exact opposite is going to happen. Folks are going to think he was on to something, but that Dastardly Judge had to undercut him for the sake the lizard people who control the Fed.

  10. Jim Hilton

    I share your horror at the level of degradation now manifesting itself in our legal system. I have long found the use of all electronic pain devises deeply troubling, especially stun guns, Tasers, etc. As a medical professional I can assure you there is an abundance of material in the medical literature confirming the dangers of indiscriminately shooting electric currents through the bodies of people with say, cardiac electric conduction problems. And this is just one example. But as you rightly pointed out, controlling a merely “annoying” person like a dog (hell, I even find using such devises on dogs morally reprehensible) is repugnant, and in my opinion is eerily reminiscent of NAZI ethics. But than again, in theses dark these days of turning hundreds of years of legal tradition on its head with unconstitutional, draconian legislation like the Patriot Act, the Military Commissions Act, the Real I.D. Act, etc this kind of slop seems to be the general drift of our whole society, doesn’t it? The founders must be spinning in their graves! Although I am not a lawyer, it appears to me on its face that such tactics are a straight forward violation of the eighth amendment’s prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishment.” Under our constitution even a criminal convicted of a capitol felony is not to be treated in such a manner. It seems to me any lawyer worth a salt should be able to construct a very compelling case that agents of the state shocking people at whim with electric currents is clearly both “cruel” and highly “unusual.”

  11. Steve Bachman

    I certainly recognize that some of the people in the “sovereign citizens movement” can be irrational & downright annoying, once they get you trapped in conversation. But I have infinitely more sympathy for them than I do for judges, cops, politicians or bureaucrats who think themselves above the moral law.
    My main problem with these “sovereign” people is they subscribe to all these convoluted, fantastic theories to explain what amount to simple, easily-explained realities. The Constitution hasn’t been surreptitiously supplanted by “maritime law,” it just gets ignored. The government doesn’t have to go through the trouble of assigning you a some “corporate personhood” to violate your rights; they just have lots of guns, & employ people who don’t give a damn about your rights. See how easy that is?

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