Från pappertidningen: Three strikes and you’re out
In 1996, Shane Taylor got sentenced to 25 years to life in California, for possessing about 10 dollars’ worth of meth. A fair punishment?
According to California’s three strikes law, it is.
The three strikes law came into effect in California in 1994. It states that a convicted defendant with two or more prior convictions, where one or more must be considered a “serious” or “violent” felony, faces 25 years to life with no chance of reduction. First after serving the minimum of 25 years is there a possibility, but no guarantee, for parole. A serious or violent felony includes everything from residential burglary, robbery, kidnapping, murder, rape, child molestation, or any offense where a weapon was used or where great bodily harm was inflicted.
In Shane Taylor’s case, he had prior convictions from a pair of nobody’s-home residential burglaries committed in a single two-week stretch in 1988. The only thing stolen was a check book, which Taylor used to forge a check and with it buy a pizza. Nothing more and nothing less.
The purpose of the law is first and foremost to increase punishment for repeat offenders. The idea is to reduce crime rates and create a safer society. A society where repeat offenders are either locked away for a very long time or discouraged from continuing to commit crimes.
Still, studies show that the law has had no impact on violent crimes. Sociology professor at University of California, Robert Nash Parker, has in the research paper “Why California’s ‘Three Strikes’ Fails as Crime and Economic Policy, and What to Do” concluded that alcohol consumption is the driving factor behind violent crime. Thus, a decrease in alcohol consumption leads to a decrease in violent crime. Instead the three strikes law contributes to huge budgetary problems, costing the state immense amounts of money annually. Money that has to come from somewhere. Parker describes how the law has resulted in cuts in education, health and welfare. Is this reasonable if the law doesn’t have the desirable effect on crime rates that was the intended purpose?
Furthermore, it is often argued that the law creates a fair sentencing guideline since everyone is subjected to the same rules. But is it really fair when most of the “third strikers” are locked away for non-violent offenses? Especially since there often are so many individual circumstances that need to be considered.
The three strikes law can, in some cases, be argued to violate the 8th amendment of the constitution, “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted”. This seems to be the case with Shane Taylor where even the judge, Howard Broadman, in retrospect admitted to making a mistake and later supported Taylor’s petition for release. Even so, it took several years before Taylor got released after serving 15 years of his “25 to life” sentence. This shows how a standardized sentencing can lead to a disproportionate and unusually cruel punishment, and there are several examples of cases where the defendant has committed minor crimes and been subjected to the three strikes law.
Norman Williams, a man with an IQ of 71, who has been labelled as mentally retarded, is another good example of excessive punishment. Williams had been forced into prostitution as a child and been homeless and addicted to crack during most of his life. He had never committed a violent crime, and his third strike was stealing road flares and a floor jack from a tow truck.
This clearly illustrates that while the three strikes law sounds good in theory, serious problems arise when it is put into practice. For one thing, it doesn’t achieve its purpose with reducing violent crimes. Instead it entails huge costs and budget problems for the state, leading to other areas being neglected such as education and welfare. Finally, it issues harsh and unfair punishment without taking the individual circumstances into consideration.
Is 25 years to life really a fair sentence for 10 dollars’ worth of meth?