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Judge zaps suspect with 50000volt shocks in court

Issued: 2018-03-07

By Jeff Caplan

March 07, 2018 12:00 PM

State District Judge George Gallagher of Tarrant County told a bailiff on three occasions to punish an uncooperative defendant with electric shocks, and now the sex offender's conviction has been overturned and a new trial ordered.

Stun belts can be strapped around the legs of some defendants and used to deliver thousands of volts of electric shock in the instance a defendant turns violent or attempts to escape the courtroom. However, in the case of Terry Lee Morris, who was tried in 2014 and convicted of charges of soliciting sexual performance from a 15-year-old girl, an appeals court found that Gallagher used electric shock as punishment after Morris failed to answer the judge's questions properly.

Gallagher, the District 396 judge since 2000, declined to comment, as did a spokeswoman with the Tarrant County district attorney's office.

After enduring the 50,000-volt shocks, Morris was apparently too scared to return to the courtroom and actually did not attend the remainder of his own trial. He appealed his conviction, alleging Gallagher violated his constitutional rights by repeatedly shocking him for failing to answer questions while showing no signs of becoming violent or being a flight risk.

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The Texas Eighth Court of Appeals in El Paso handed down its ruling on Feb. 28. Texas Lawyer first reported the ruling Tuesday. The ruling said judges are not permitted to shock defendants who won't answer questions or don't follow the court's rules of decorum.

“While the trial court’s frustration with an obstreperous defendant is understandable, the judge’s disproportionate response is not. We do not believe that trial judges can use stun belts to enforce decorum,” Justice Yvonne T. Rodriguez said of Gallagher’s actions in the court’s opinion.

“A stun belt is a device meant to ensure physical safety; it is not an operant conditioning collar meant to punish a defendant until he obeys a judge’s whim. This Court cannot sit idly by and say nothing when a judge turns a court of law into a Skinner Box, electrocuting a defendant until he provides the judge with behavior he likes," Rodriguez wrote.

Miller, 54, remains in the Wynne Unit in Huntsville. Besides the conviction that was overturned, he was convicted in 1992 of causing bodily injury to a child sentenced to 12 years to prison.

Gallagher ordered a bailiff to administer the electric shocks on the first day of his trial. When Gallagher asked Morris for his plea, guilty or not guilty. Morris refused to answer the question.

“Sir, before I say that, I have the right to make a defense,” Morris responded, according to the appeals court.

Morris told the judge he had a pending lawsuit against his defense attorney, whom he wanted recused from the case, and against Gallagher.

Gallagher became irritated and warned Morris about further "outbursts."

"Mr. Morris, I am giving you one warning,” Gallagher said outside the presence of the jury, according to the appeals court. “You will not make any additional outbursts like that, because two things will happen: No. 1, I will either remove you from the courtroom or I will use the shock belt on you.”

Morris answered, "All right, sir."

When Morris continued to talk, Gallagher instructed the bailiff to activate the stun belts around Morris' legs.


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