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State of California’s Penal Codes on Armed Robbery Essay

The crux of the arguments which would be developed for this recommendation paper is in support of maintaining the status quo in the implementation of prison term policies against persons convicted of armed robbery in the State of California. The recommendation, it must be mentioned, is being proposed in view of an impending State legislative vote aimed at amending existing penal codes pertinent to the above said issue, thereby doubling the prison terms for anyone convicted of armed robbery.

This paper is not a direct dissent against the State proposal. Far from it! What this paper, on the contrary, intends to achieve is to merely recommend a moratorium on the upcoming legislative vote – a moratorium which shall be in place up until such time when the State – by sanctioning formal studies – would be able to adequately show that any amendment to existing penal codes would translate to concrete and tangible benefits not only for the general public, but also for the convicted prisoners themselves.

Methodology and Scope Since this paper attempts to give reasons to the above-said recommendation, the methodological approach with which this paper employs shall be both descriptive and analytical. At the very least, the tone of this paper shall be argumentative and expository. Furthermore, for the sake of limiting the scope of the topic of this recommendation paper – a broad one in fact – the existing laws of the State of California shall be used as a way to develop the case in point.

Existing Penal Policies The State of California, like all the other States in this country, squares with crime problems by implementing stringent policies against erring individuals or groups. Specifically for criminals who, after due hearing and litigation process, have been proven (reasonable doubts notwithstanding of course) to commit crimes which may involve armed robbery, the State metes out equitable punishment just the same. Armed robbery is considered in California as a “violent crime” for the chief reason that it “involves the use of a (lethal weapon such as) a gun or other firearm during a robbery” (San Diego Armed Robbery, 2008).

When investigation reveals that the event of robbery satisfies any of the following circumstances, then such a crime is said to be an instance of armed robbery: first, that “the victim receives serious physical injury” secondary to the use of lethal weapon”; second, that “the offender is armed with a deadly weapon and that it is used or its immediate use is threatened”; and third, that the offender, in his or her hope of eliciting paralyzing fear or terror from victims, “displays what appears to be a weapon” (Griset, 1991, p. 7).

The State stipulates that robbery is a felony punishable by two to nine years of imprisonment, depending on the extent and nature. However, for anyone who is convicted with “the use of firearm during the commission of the robbery”, an additional 10 years shall be added on top of one’s prison sentence; and, when the firearm is “discharged in the commission of the robbery”, a hefty 20 additional years shall automatically be appended to one’s otherwise already lengthy imprisonment sentence (San Diego Armed Robbery, 2008).

Identifying Certain Ambiguities It is not without good reasons to claim that the existing penal stipulations of California, unless proven otherwise by reputable studies, serve well the State for now. Amending such policies therefore would necessitate firstly laying down a sufficient basis for it. Unfortunately, there are a few reasons which may be cited to argue that there may not be a sufficient basis for any moves to amend the existing policies, which appear to work quite well in the very first place.

First, since it appears that the move to double the prison terms of convicted armed robbers draws inspiration from the very wide support it gains from the general public, the danger of overlooking the proper procedural processes in determining prison terms thus remains to be a legitimate concern that cannot be dismissed. Prison terms are chiefly determined by legitimate factors such as the “seriousness of the offense” and “prior criminal record of the defendant” (Neubauer, 2004, p. 70). These factors are the very reason why punishments for crimes are stratified into degrees, extent and nature of commission. If the State therefore tries to push for amending existing policies based on public opinion – however indicative it is of a lopsided public support for stiffer punishment – it would appear that such a move would fail to employ appropriate legal considerations. This would then amount to a violation of the rights of the convicted felons.

According to Neubauer, when certain “illegitimate attributes” – such as ethnicity, education, economic status, gender or sexual orientation, including negative public perception – of the criminals are used against them in the determination of their respective sentences, the court (or State for that matter) is said to commit “sentencing discrimination” in the process (Neubauer, 2004, pp. 370-371). This is no less true for this particular case.

Herein it is patent that the motives for the proposed amendment stems from the negative public perception against armed robbers, expressed conversely in the wide public support the proposal generates. Second, it is on account of observing a fair amount of caution that any moves to amend existing prison policies must see to it that it would not compromise the rehabilitation of criminals as an important aspect of penology. Penal punishments are normally understood to be motivated by two chief ends: retributive and rehabilitative purposes.

It both seeks to render justice on the one hand, and rehabilitate criminals “with the goal of restoring them to useful lives” on the other hand (The World Book Encyclopedia, 1995, p. 441). It would be needless to say that public support for longer prison terms stem from their retributive desire to serve justice no matter what. Which is why, the State’s effort to cater to the public desire for longer punishment terms on retributive grounds appears to neglect the rehabilitation of prisoners as a legitimate concern as well. Surely, the State cannot merely ‘please’ the public at the expense of prisoner’s welfare.

Third, it is highly uncertain for now, at least without pertinent scientific findings, to claim that doubling the prison term for convicted armed robbers will in fact significantly deter future instances of crimes, and likewise do more in rehabilitating prisoners. First, it has is to be admitted that an effective crime-punishment system helps deter crimes. But this trend is only affirms the correlation between “the higher fraction of convicts (who) go to prison” and the “lower lower rates of crime” (Will, 2008); and not of the inverse proportion between the length of prison terms and crime rates.

Second, it has to be acknowledged that doubling the prison terms of those convicted of armed robbery, as indeed of any crime, surely raises serious questions as to its effectiveness and cost: Would the move to place convicts behind bars longer than their set length of stay be beneficial for their rehabilitation program? Would it translate to better results as a way to compensate the significantly higher funding to defray such an augmented program? By Way of Conclusion: Recommendation for Status Quo

As a way to conclude, this paper – as hinted in the Introduction – recommends the continued implementation of the existing policies pertinent to punishment of armed robbery in the State of California. Along the same vein, this paper suggests a moratorium on the voting of any legislature seeking to augment prison terms, up until formal studies sanctioned by the State itself are able to shed light into the ambiguities leveled in the course of the discussions. In the event that such ambiguities be adequately addressed and thereby dismissed, then it is only the time that the State would have a strong justifiable cause to proceed with the voting.


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