Three Strikes and You’re O-utrageously and U-njustly T-erminated
“There’s a new rule around here,” the coach bellowed to his baseball team, “When any of you gets an accumulation of three-strikes, you’re not only out, you’re off the team!”.
Sounds ridiculous and unfair? Yes! But are we doing the same thing in legal matters? The three-strikes laws, being enacted across the country, are pronouncing ridiculous and unfair punishments.
The three-strikes law adds years to the prison time of third time offenders. The types of crimes that this law applies to depend on the state. In California, if someone is on trial for a “violent” or “serious” crime with two other previous crimes on record, he will most likely receive a sentence of twenty-five years to life in prison. The two previous crimes could be no more than petty thefts, and how long ago they were committed does not matter.
The three-strikes law has gone off course as shown by many examples. Leandro Andrade tried to steal children’s videos from a Kmart. He was stopped by security the first time and arrested the second. Because of previous petty thefts, the three-strikes law gave him a sentence of fifty years to life. As Carl Cannon wrote in his article on this subject, “Andrade will languish in prison, then, serving a much longer state sentence for his nonviolent crimes than most first offenders or even second-timers convicted of sexual assault or manslaughter.” Brian Smith got twenty-five years to life on his third strike, aiding two female shoplifters in stealing bed sheets from a department store. His first two strikes were for unarmed robbery and for burglarizing an unoccupied residence. Scott Benscoter got twenty-five years to life on his third strike for stealing a pair of running shoes. His first two offenses were non-violent burglaries. Gregory Taylor, a homeless man, tried to break into the kitchen of a church where he had previously been given food. He had two other decade old offenses of snatching a purse and attempted unarmed robbery. He is now in jail for twenty-five years to life.
How has this happened? Carl Cannon says, “It’s the result of well-intentioned anti-crime laws that have gone terribly wrong.” Mike Reynolds, who pushed for these laws, says that under three strikes, “those who can get their lives turned around, will. Those who can’t have two choices leave California or go to prison. The one thing we cannot allow is another victim to be part of their criminal therapy.” This is a valid point and so is the decrease in crime rates after the enactment of the three-strikes law. However, is catching a few extra dangerous criminals worth wasting the lives of thousands of mild offenders? The purpose of the three-strikes law is to put criminals out of society to keep them from committing future crimes. If this is the case, however, then they might as well give the death penalty to third time offenders. Will spending half their life in prison really change them? Of course, this proposition would horrify the promoters of the three-strikes law and for good reason, but is the current law really any better? Not by much.
The three-strikes law throws the punishments of crimes into disproportion. Will a punishment system work that gives the same penalty to someone who commits three minor offenses as someone who commits two major offenses? We need to go back to giving punishments based on the degree of crime not the amount of crime.
The three-strikes law has failed and must be stopped and killed where it is. Let’s keep the sword of justice without forgetting the balance in the other hand.