Against Three Strikes Essay, Research Paper
Against Three Strikes
By failing to report his change of address, Eric Barr fell victim to California’s three strikes law and was sentenced to 25 years-to-life without the possibility of parole. Yes, Eric Barr broke the law and should be punished, but to send him to prison for the rest of his life for this offense is absurd. This penalty is excessive and disproportionate to the crime Eric committed. The three strikes law is a violation of the cruel and unusual punishment clause of the VIII Amendment and is therefore unconstitutional.
After a total of ten years in prison Eric Barr was demonstrating a proper rehabilitative lifestyle. He got a job, and checked in with his probation officer accordingly. Eric was surprised when he found police officers waiting to take him into custody at his place of employment. Understanding that the three strikes law was in full effect and that he was one strike away from a life behind bars, Eric, obviously, inadvertently broke his probation and is now serving an outlandish sentence. Eric Barr and many other people are paying for California’s crime phobia.
The popular three strikes initiative, which Californian’s easily passed into law by a 72% margin in the November 1994 election, is an attempt at a quick fix stemming from two decades of steadily increased crime rates. Although the law sounds equitable when imposed on felons who continually commit violent undeterable crimes, it can also throw the key away on those who are perfectly able to live non-criminal lives in society. Under this law, anyone with two prior felony convictions could be sentenced to prison for 25 years-to-life without the possibility of parole for any third felony conviction. No matter how minor the offense is, prosecutors have the right to request the 25 years-to-life sentence. In California, there are over 500 offenses that can be categorized as a felony trigger a third strike.
A similar Court case to Eric’s was Solem v. Helm (1983). In 1979, Jerry Helm was convicted in South Dakota of writing a bad check for $100. Ordinarily the maximum punishment for that crime would have been five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. However, Helm was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole because he had six prior felony convictions. He was convicted three times of third-degree burglary, once for obtaining money under false pretenses, once for grand larceny and a third-offense driving while intoxicated charge. Court records contained no information about the circumstances of any of these offenses, except that they were all nonviolent crimes not directly intended to harm anyone. The Supreme Court looked at the different aspects of Helm’s crime. They examined the nature of his offense, the nature of his sentence, and the sentence he could have received in other States for the same offense. The Supreme Court concluded that on the basis of Helm’s crime, it was “grossly disproportionate to the nature of his offense.” Helm’s crime for writing a bad check was as minute as Barr’s failing to report a change of address to his probation officer. These cases are distinctively similar except that Helm’s was able to commit twice as many felonies as Barr and the Supreme Court still decided that his sentence unconstitutional. We can not let the courts sentence people to life in prison for small crimes like this. This is not a just system that will give equal sentences to all people. If a judge is in a bad mood he has the authority to put an undeserving criminal away for the rest of his life
Dale Broyles, for example, is a 25-year-old man who is charged with being an ex-felon in possession of a weapon. Broyles was deposited drunk and unconscious into the back seat of his car by some of his friends to sleep off his evening binge. The next morning, after his car was repossessed with him still sleeping in it, Broyles was brought to the attention of the sheriff’s deputies by a startled repo man. While attempting to awaken Broyles, deputies noted a gun in the vehicle’s front seat (which Broyles and other witnesses claim was not his) and arrested him. Mistakes like this happen all the time and with the three strikes law people are being put in jail for the rest of their lives for something that would regularly carry a maximum of a year in prison.
Incarcerating a non-violent repeat offender until he dies in prison stems from the prison systems failure to rehabilitate, rather than from public safety interest. Rarely do repeat offenders continue to commit felonies into middle age, and almost none continue into old age. To keep a 60-year-old in prison, even though he may have committed armed robberies in his teens and twenties, will do little to benefit public safety. Prison cells that should hold violent repeat offenders who are very unlikely to commit violent crimes are unavailable to hold younger, active violent criminals.
Two components the “three strikes” law have been called into serious question. The contention that California has been reluctant to punish its offenders and the notion that crime is rising out of control. It’s a fact that since 1977, when California had 19,000 inmates in its prison system, the California Legislature has passed more than 1,000 bills lengthening sentences or defining new crimes. According the California Department of Justice, today’s population is at 126,000, a more-than-sixfold increase. Between 1852 and 1984, California built 12 prisons. Since 1984, California has constructed an additional 16 prisons.
The1996 California Crime Index reported that of the “three strikes” offenders serving life sentences 37.9% committed property violations, 25.1% were violent offenders, 21.5% were drug related offenders and the rest fell under other minor felony offenses. Thousands of repeat non-violent criminals are being charged under the “three strikes” statute. Six months after the “three strikes” law was enacted, there were more than 7,400 second-and third-strike cases filed statewide. A study from Los Angeles County, which generally accounts for as much as half of the state’s overall criminal justice activities, indicated that, as of the end of November 1995, more than 6,000 second and third strike cases had been filed with the courts.
Historically, more than 90% of all felony cases statewide are disposed of through plea bargaining. Potential “three strikes” criminals are refusing to plea bargain and are taking their cases to jury trial. In unprecedented numbers, suspected killers, rapists and robbers, who might otherwise accept plea bargains are demanding trials to fight off tough “three strike” penalties, including double sentences for two. Criminal judges simply cannot handle the load. They are required by law to grant criminal defendants speedy trials. Studies now indicate that only about 14 percent of all second strike cases and only about 6 percent of all third-strike cases have been disposed of through plea bargaining.
County jail systems have been adversely affected by the three strikes law, also. Because repeat felons charged under the three strikes law face significant prison sentences, most counties set bail for second-strike offenders at twice the
usual bail amount and refuse bail for third-strike offenders. These bail changes, coupled with more offenders taking their cases to trial, result in more offenders being incarcerated in county jail.
Because third-strike offenders face possible life in prison if convicted, they are considered high-security inmates requiring closer supervision and restricted cell
arrangements at a greater cost than the general jail population. It must be recognized that three strikes is an extremely abrupt mechanism for targeting the violent criminal. Criminal convictions, or even arrest records, do not necessarily correlate closely with a person’s actual criminal past. Analysis of a person’s criminal record only, is not a particularly accurate way to determine if they are a violent repeat offender. Even when other factors such as job stability, marital status, and substance abuse, are taken into account besides criminal convictions, there would only be a moderate success rate in categorizing the criminals who are the active violent offenders.
The sentencing guidelines for California’s three strikes law are ridiculously rigid and are putting to non-deserving people away for the rest of their lives. The felons personal characteristics are not even necessarily relevant. It doesn’t matter whether or not somebody has been employed for the last 30 years, raised three children, and contributed thousands of volunteer hours to charity. They would get the same life sentence as someone who has never held an honest job or done anything other than contribute to societies ills. It has been proven to be in violation of the VIII Amendment because of mandatory sentencing procedures that give punishments disproportionate to the crime committed. Therefore I believe that the three strikes law is unconstitutional.