A Superior Court judge has rejected an unusual request by a state prosecutor to have a former East Hartford teacher place a newspaper ad saying she falsely accused a colleague of rape.
But the issue lives on as lawyers and legal experts debate whether such punishment would be appropriate.
Angela Schmidt, 55, of Simsbury, a former teacher at East Hartford Middle School, received a special form of probation earlier this month for falsely reporting that a fellow teacher raped her in the school. If she successfully completes the probation, the charges will be erased.
At the sentencing in Manchester Superior Court, prosecutor Adam Scott asked Judge Leslie Olear to require Schmidt to take out the ad as part of the conditions of her probation.
“Anybody who wrongly accuses someone of a crime should be on notice to the public,” Scott said. “Any other potential victims need to be aware of this woman.”
Olear, however, rejected the proposal, which is drawing mixed opinions in the legal community.
“It reminded me of the pilgrims and stockade in front of town square,” said Schmidt’s lawyer, Richard Brown. “Why would you ask a defendant, not found guilty, to be put through such humiliation? It’s a punitive sanction and is inconsistent with punishment we should give to people.”
Forcing Schmidt to place an ad would violate her rights, Brown said. The special probation she received, called accelerated rehabilitation, is for first-time offenders who are not considered a risk to commit any more crimes.
“A person is not required to provide an admission of wrongdoing,” Brown said. “This would have essentially forced her to do that. If tested, it would be declared unconstitutional.”
Some experts agreed with Brown.
“When a person receives accelerated rehabilitation they still retain the right against self-incrimination,” said Timothy Everett, a clinical law professor at the University of Connecticut Law School. “The defendant was not convicted of anything. Admitting in public print is self-incrimination and could be used against her.”
Everett said judges in the past have ordered people to write letters of apology, but he has never heard of a defendant being forced to advertise their crimes.
But others said it could be an appropriate punishment.
“I’ve never seen it requested before, but it’s a very innovative idea,” said Hartford defense attorney Michael Georgetti. “There are people in this world who falsely accuse someone of sexual assault. Shouldn’t the public be entitled to know about it? There has to be checks and balances preventing false claims.”
Legal experts say there have been cases in which judges have used shame as punishment, ordering defendants to hold signs and apologize in public.
Scott said he understood that the judge rejected his request because Schmidt was not found guilty.
“I just wanted to make sure that we have this woman somewhere in the public record in case she tries to do it again,” he said.