Wednesday, January 03, 2007


Cruel and Unusual Punishment?

From an Associated Press story, dateline North Platte, Nebraska (hat tip to Jim K):
Brian Bruggeman caused a stink at the Lincoln County Jail earlier this month and will now have to answer for it in court. Another inmate, Jesse Dorris, alleges that Bruggeman's flatulence, passed in close proximity to Dorris, sparked a Dec. 14 fight between the two at the jail.

Now Bruggeman, 38, faces a Jan. 11 preliminary hearing on the state's complaint of assault by a confined person. It's a felony punishable by up to five years in prison.

Bruggeman is accused of injuring Dorris, his cellmate, when he pushed him into cell bars. Dorris, 26, was not charged.

The two began scuffling, County Attorney Jeff Meyer said Tuesday, because Dorris was fed up with Bruggeman's flatulence.

Jail fights are common, Meyer said, but the cause of this one was rather uncommon.

"It's usually about someone hogging the newspaper or someone not happy about what's on TV," he said.

Bruggeman, of Hershey, is serving a 90-day sentence for violating a protection order.

"He compounded his problems," Meyer said.

Dorris, of North Platte, is awaiting a January trial on a charge of aiding and abetting robbery.

Brad Dawson, Bruggeman's attorney, did not immediately return a phone message left at his office.

Sheriff Jerome Kramer said the incident was a result of overcrowding. The jail was built in 1933 and has a capacity of 23 inmates, according to 2006 standards, Kramer said. As many as 65 inmates have been lodged at the jail in recent days, he said.

"You just can't get a reprieve from one another," Kramer said. "When you've got a guy causing problems passing gas, there's no way to get away from the smell."
Among the complaints in the class action suit Jones v. Goord, 435 F.Supp.2d 221 (S.D.N.Y. 2006), was that the practice of confining prisoners to double cells rather than single cells violated the Eighth Amendment probihition against cruel and unusual punishment, in part because the practice led to unsanitary conditions (at 236):
The unsanitary conditions of which plaintiffs complain are the lack of floor space (Nathan Rep. 19-20), the distance between the beds and the toilets in the cells (id. 20), the amount of personal property kept in cells (id. 19-20), the smell of "a cellmate's feces and flatulence" (id. 20), and the smell that can result from a cellmate's failure to bathe frequently (Pl. Inj. Mem. 36).
Footnote 10 of the opinion uses the Pythagorean theorem to calculate the distance between the toilet in a typical cell and the upper bunk. This distance is the hypotenuse of a right triangle consisting of lower bunk, upper bunk, and toilet. The distance between lower bunk and toilet is known, as is the distance between upper bunk and lower bunk. The problem is to calculate the distance between upper bunk and toilet, which the judge writing the opinion (Gerard E. Lynch) did in detail, showing all of his work, unlike the student who answered this examination question:

But my favorite paragraph in the judicial opinion is this (at 237):
Similarly, plaintiffs' complaints regarding having to deal with a cellmate's odors do not rise to the level of a constitutional violation. Sharing a cell with an individual with body odor, or an individual who does not bathe frequently, is a far cry from the "wanton and unnecessary infliction of pain" against which the Eighth Amendment protects. Rhodes, 452 U.S. at 347. Furthermore, plaintiffs' claims that double-celling subjects them to "the stench of a cellmate's feces and flatulence" ignore the fact that even in a single cell, an inmate would be subjected to the "stench" of his own "feces and flatulence." (Nathan Rep. 20.) Plaintiffs are not so bold as to expressly claim that, to borrow a phrase, their "feces and flatulence" don't stink. Without question, shared quarters increase this problem, but plaintiffs offer no evidence that such conditions present a health risk, as opposed to a mere increased degree of unpleasantness.
I once collected some literary passages illustrating the Latin proverb Stercus cuique suum bene olet (alt. Suus cuique crepitus bene olet). I would now like to add these memorable words from the Reverend Sun Myung Moon's speech In Search of the Origin of the Universe, delivered at the Family Federation for World Peace, Farewell Banquet (August 1, 1996, Washington, D.C.):
You may think it rude if I share this with you, but I would like to give you an example. You use the bathroom each morning. When you defecate, do you wear a gas mask? This is not a laughing matter but a serious one. If you are near someone else defecating, you will quickly move a good distance away. But when you smell your own feces, you do not even notice it. This is because that fecal matter is one with your body. Therefore, you do not feel that it is dirty.

When you were young, did you ever taste the dried mucus from your nose? Does it taste sweet or salty? It's salty, right? Since you can answer, you must have tasted it! Why did you not feel that it was dirty? It is because it was part of your body. Reverend Moon has figured out something that no one in the world knew.

When you cough up phlegm, you sometimes swallow it, right? What about you who are here today? Have you ever had that experience? Be honest. Why do you not feel it is dirty? Because the phlegm was one with your body. We all eat three meals a day, breakfast, lunch and dinner. If you go about twelve inches down from your mouth, there is a fertilizer factory. By eating three meals a day, we are providing raw materials for fertilizer factories. After knowing that, can you still take food into your mouth with a fork and spoon? We know that there is a fertilizer factory in our stomach, but we live on without feeling its presence. Why do we not feel it? It is because we are one with it.

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