US Criminal Sentencing Laws are Barbaric

WASHINGTON (CNN) --A sharply divided Supreme Court upheld long prison sentences given to two men whose theft of golf clubs and videotapes placed them under California’s controversial “three strikes you’re out” law. . . Justices ruled on two separate cases involving California’s then-novel 1994 law, which provides for mandatory prison terms of 25 years to life for career criminals convicted for the third time of a felony. . .

Gary Ewing is serving 25 years to life for stealing golf clubs from a Los Angeles country club. In his case, the prosecutor had the option of charging Ewing with a misdemeanor but chose to try the case as a felony. The state supreme court had rejected Ewing’s appeal of his sentence. His lawyer said Ewing has AIDS and expects to die soon.

In the other case, Leandro Andrade was given a 50-year sentence in 1995 for stealing videotapes in two southern California stores. While in most cases the crime would have been a misdemeanor, Andrade’s prior felony burglary convictions turned it into a felony, his third.

Leandro Andrade was given not one but two sentences of 25 years-to-life for stealing nine children’s videotapes, including “Snow White,” “Cinderella” and “Free Willie 2.” The tapes were worth $153.54 . . . Andrade got the 25 years doubled for two cases of shoplifting, which became his third and fourth strikes under California

Anyone who feels they have to steal “Free Willy 2” deserves to spend their life in jail.

I can almost hear the chorus from Guantanamo Bay now, “a sentence? Luxury! What I wouldn’t give to have a sentence.” Of course I can’t hear them cos they’ve got strange black balls stuffed in their mouths.


Flicka’s hilarious comment is all that needs to be said about this issue.

I assume what you mean by that is there’s no sense debating the inhumanity of the laws because it is so obvious they are wrong (notwithstanding that the US Supreme Court felt it is acceptable to send a man to prison for 50 years for stealing $150 worth of video tapes)?

unfortunately, sometimes you get these prosecutors who choose to prosecute under the stricter law because they realize these people likely won’t get/afford a good defense lawyer (segue to const. right re: trial, defense, etc.) and they do it for advancement of their own career, not just because they should.

Sorry Kenny, just want to point out that damned auto crudder just scrapped your post. How bizarre. So indeed some words, no matter how apt, have to be left out?


I think states should have a good deal of latitude to decide on what basis they will sentence career criminals. (Which reminds me: I seem to remember a certain poster playing up states’ rights when the subject was gay marriage.)

California’s law is a good one. Criminals in the states already get too many giveaways. California juveniles have their slate of an often impressive criminal career wiped clean when they come of age. They then often get breaks that leave some crimes off their record. The public deserves a better accounting of criminals. Any dumbass who has two strikes on him and decides to break the law by stealing some 150 dollars worth of videos menaces society with his stupidity and should be immediately taken off the street. Somebody who would do something so colossally stupid, you can’t be sure of what their next step will be, and now we don’t need to care.

Stealing is illegal. Did he not realize this the first two times he did it? The only inhumane part of his punishment is that the tax dollars will be going to house him in jail, when they could be going to build a park or send a poor kid to college. Too bad they couldn’t just chop his balls off, would’ve saved lot of $$$.

Hopefully, sometime during those 50 years it will sink into his brain that stealing is illegal and stupid, especially if you know if you do it three times in a row you will be given a harsher sentence if caught. You are citing only $150 for which he was caught stealing. How much has he taken in the past he WASN’T caught for?


Aside from your total lack of common sense and compassion and your advocacy for a cruel policy that wastes not only a human life but the resources of tax payers, you overlook the fact that the person has already served his full sentence. Apparently you’re not familiar with teh constitutional provisions prohibiting double jeopardy or cruel and unusual punishment.

Et tu, Flicka, 50 years for petty theft? Reasonable? Plenty of murderers serve shorter sentences than that. And the law is not supposed to punish people for unknown suspected crimes (or those for which he already served his time) but only for those for which the defendant is presently being convicted.

Well the three strikes law was just that a law and it was passed in a legal way. Voters can vote these laws down any time they want to. Act. Organize. Fight. As opposed to truly barbaric laws which chop off body parts, result in stonings, prison sentences in squalid unhealthy conditions in …

throw a dart at the board (list of the world’s countries) and you are bound to hit one with laws that are truly more “barbaric” than the US.

[quote=“Mother Theresa”]CF,

Aside from your total lack of common sense and compassion and your advocacy for a cruel policy that wastes not only a human life but the resources of tax payers.[/quote]

I think Coldfront has been quite reasonable in his recent posts even though some of us may not agree. as he alluded and fred smith mentioned, states and the voters of these states have the right and opportunity to create or un-create such laws. that is how this democracy is set up. Of course, I see that it is the latter part which MT is not happy about.

I realize MT is impassioned about this, but there isn’t a need for such a discourteous reply as to say CF lacks total common sense. i don’t believe it lacks common sense. it just appears to be a dispassionate opinion addressing the authority of states and its voters by extension more than say the unfairness of such law. (well at least the first part).

for the love of god, I urge restraint. let’s stick to the issues.

Still MT has some valid points. correct me if i’m wrong, i wasn’t sure that the 3 strikes law addresses the juvenile criminal ‘non-recordation’ problem that CF brings up. if so, i fail to see its relevance here as well as the relevance of whether a certain person is so dumb as to cross that final strike that he deserves to be locked up.

However, I would agree with MT in that the 3 strikes law may have some unintended or at least unreasonable outcomes especially when considering how other criminal sentencings function. ie the proportionality. for example, cf. a homicide sentencing. I agree with MT in that there is a constitutional concern lurking regarding the adage that the punishment should fit the crime. There is also a similar argument concerning the proportionality of sentencing of drug-related offenses v. violence-related offenses.

evil kenny urges me to incite and instigate. I say we can save the piefight for fredfest, but only after the martini and the steak portion of the dinner.

Sadly this phenomenon is gaining appeal in Australia where a “crime panic” is very much underway. I might add that conservative politicians are notorious for beating this type of shit up. However, in NSW it turns out its a Labour Premier that has been driving this particular ship. I hasten to add that the man is some weird expert on the American Civil War and looks uncannily like Abraham Lincoln (it’s true! But ok, irrelevant). :wink:

Apparently too, the Habitual Criminals Act 1957 (NSW) provides for certain offenders to be declared “habitual criminals”, on whom an additional term of imprisonment may then be imposed. It apparently has its roots in the British legal system, though on a quick scan I couldn’t find it.

Kenny, I don’t think MT was out of order at all. It was a fair call. Personally I was happy to leave Coldfront’s comments as a good example of the heartless drivel that drives these very legislative changes. Stupidity isn’t in itself a crime but as Coldfront points out, it well could be by default. Couple a three strikes law with “deinstitutionalisation” of psychiatric facilities and you have one sick mother fucker of a prison. That does seem to be what’s increasingly occurring. Prisons are the proxy “rathouses” of the past.

First year Politics would have taught you the classic example where it is well known that the majority of UK and Australian citizens would vote to reinstall the death penalty via referendum at the drop of a hat. However, responsible politicians are unwilling to stoop to this level of populist opportunism. Does it call into question the democratic process? Yes indeed it does. It is widely considered a moral responsibility.


MT’s on the right track. Please read the article (linked below) on Public Choice Theory; then come back and discuss. Although not strictly on this subject, it is relevant to the discussion.

To quote from it:

Constitutional economics
In implicit response to these questions, Tullock and I commenced to work on what was to become The Calculus of Consent, published in 1962. The central contribution of this book was to identify a two-level structure of collective decision-making. We distinguished between ‘ordinary politics’, consisting of decisions made in legislative assemblies, and ‘constitutional politics’, consisting of decisions made about the rules for ordinary politics.

We were not, of course, inventing this distinction. Both in legal theory and in practice, constitutional law had long been distinguished from statute law. What we did was to bring this distinction into economic analysis. Doing so allowed us to answer the questions posed previously: From the perspective of both justice and efficiency, majority rule may safely be allowed to operate in the realm of ordinary politics provided that there is generalised consensus on the constitution, or on the rules that define and limit what can be done through ordinary politics. It is in arriving at this constitutional framework where Wicksell’s idea of requiring unanimity-or at least super majorities-may be practically incorporated.

Clearly then, as MT states, a breach of the laws (The Constitution) that define the rules (the ordinary law) has taken place. The three-strikes law is therefore invalid.

[quote=“Mother Theresa”]

Et tu, Flicka, 50 years for petty theft? Reasonable? Plenty of murderers serve shorter sentences than that. And the law is not supposed to punish people for unknown suspected crimes (or those for which he already served his time) but only for those for which the defendant is presently being convicted.[/quote]

Merritt points out that Andrade has a long list of crimes on his rap sheet:

I agree Flicka.

There seems to be more concern for criminals rights than those they repeatedly prey upon. How about more concern for the victims?

And again, if there is concern about constitutional rights, then let it go through the process, let the Supreme Court hear and rule upon this case. Until then, sorry but I am not exactly overflowing with sympathy, though no doubt in this particular individual’s case, there are no doubt “root causes.”

Would you like to hear the “root causes” behind what made me the fat, bloated bastard that I am? Surely, I am deserving of sympathy too for my inability to stop at the fifth martini or the fifth 20 ounce steak? How about a Three Strikes Law for nasty fat bastards?

[quote=“Mother Theresa”]CF,

Aside from your total lack of common sense…[/quote]

Lack of common sense?

Tough laws and tough enforcement on crime, including petty crime, have been at least partially responsible for the huge drop in crime the U.S. experienced during the 1990s. A famous example of this is the tough policy on freeloading subway riders taken by the New York City police department. Under Mayor Giuliani, those who jumped the turnstiles on the subway without paying, and who had previously been tolerated under other city regimes, began to be stopped. Police discovered these young thugs were often carrying knives and guns. Some scholars and government officials began to see a correlation between stopping small-time offenders for jumping the subway turnstiles and the drop in muggings on the NY City subway.

Getting tough on petty crime, if there is cause to believe there is a pattern leading towards other crimes, is a proven way to have safe streets.

Guilty as charged. I’m tired of the failed policies of the past, which you continue to advocate, that makes some failed criminal a poster boy for a human rights campaign.

The man in question wasted his own life, and his punishment reflects that.

As for the taxpayers, when put to the test, California voters are never at a loss to fund more prisons.

And as the Supreme Court decided, he hasn’t served his full sentence.


Legal Beagle, perhaps you would be so kind as to remind both the U.S. and California Supreme Courts of this deep and powerful legal reasoning.

The case has already turned out. See Mother Theresa’s first link. The Supreme Court decided to uphold the California law.

Does ultimate power in the States still rest with the jury? Can a jury return a verdict of “not guilty” in the teeth of the evidence?

I wonder what would happen if US juries began to return not guilty verdicts in cases such as these? Could you convict a man for stealing a video tape, knowing he’d go down for 25 years ? I don’t think I could. It is utterly disproportionate, and cannot possibly be said to have any rehabilitative benefit. Nor do I believe draconian sentencing like this to have much of a deterrent effect. Murder is a capital offence in many States, and yet the liklihood of being caught (or not) is a far greater deterrent (or encouragement) than any sentence.

So much for jurisprudence.

They did for OJ Simpson, IMO.