The 3 Strikes Crime Law is one of the nation’s harshest sentencing laws. Are you aware that even non-violent criminals are sentenced to life in prison under the 3 Strikes Crime Law? More than 4,000 non-violent criminals are currently serving life in sentence in prison in California alone. (Vega & Galloway, 2012). If you take these outrageous numbers and add them to the rest of the nations non-violent criminal statistics the numbers are shocking. The 3 Strikes Crime Law is a violation of the 8th Amendment, as the maximum penalty for non-violent offenders is severe, unjust, and preposterous.
The 3 Strikes Crime Law was established in 1993, which carries stricter penalties for third time felony convictions, and it is now enforced in 24 states. (Grimes, 2010). The law was created to defer and punish repeat felony offenders, and to impose lengthier prison sentences. These lengthier prison sentences are only imposed on certain repeat offenders, but do not show favor to non-violent criminals. The prison sentences are more than double the prior sentencing guidelines. The broadened prison sentences are imposed on first, second, and third time felony convictions, regardless of the crimes seriousness.
Non-violent and violent criminals who receive their first strike must serve a minimum of 2 years in prison, second strikers must serve a mandatory 10 years, and third strikers receive 25 years to life, without a chance of parole (Brown & Jolivette, 2005). Such lengthy prison sentences are unjust and unethical, and even give non-violent criminals life in prison. According to Taylor (2012) “The Eighth Amendment to the Constitution provides a protection against cruel and unusual punishment, but the doctrine as developed by the Supreme Court fails to adequately enforce this prohibition and therefore allows states to impose punishment that is cruel and unusual.” (p.1810). The 8th Amendment of the United States prohibits the use of cruel and unusual punishment against convicted criminals.
The 3 Strikes Crime Law allows participating state courts to sentence non-violent criminals to life in prison regardless of the crimes seriousness. Many of these convicted criminals who were subject to the 3 Strikes Crime Law have appealed their cases to the Supreme Court. The California Supreme Court has heard over 1,000 appeals, with less than 10% of these appeals getting reversed or revised. (Mandinach, 2012). The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the State Courts findings and upheld the life in prison decision (Brown & Jolivette, 2005). The 3 Strikes Crime Law was established to defer criminals from becoming repeat offenders, but the law also gives state courts full authority to impose sentencing as they seem fit. Such rulings, as the life sentence that Ewing received, could be perceived as a violation of their 8th Amendment right. State courts do not measure the gravity of the crime, but rather how many crimes the criminal has committed. Over the past decade state courts have imposed the 3 Strikes Law, and sentenced a number of non-violent offenders to life in prison.
For example, Ewing vs. California was a case that the defendant – Ewing was sentenced to 25 years to life after stealing golf clubs (Gertner, 2012). Ewing was previously convicted of two other non-violent felonies, which made him eligible to be sentenced to life in prison. Under California’s 3 Strikes and You’re Out Law Ewing was put away for the rest of his life, with no chance of parole. According to Gertner (2012) “Retributive theories of punishment use the proportionality principle to assign blame; no offender should be punished more harshly than the crime deserves.” (p. 1586). Prison sentences and court decisions are imposed to help criminals rehabilitate and change their criminal behaviors. The 3 Strikes Crime Law should only be enforced and used to detain violent criminals, not to severely punish non-violent criminals.
The 3 Strikes Crime Law gives court system all across the nation unwavering power to inflict harsh sentencing laws on non-violent criminals. The 8th Amendment protects people from being subjected to cruel and unusual punishment, however, the 3 Strikes Crime Law allows States Courts to punish non-violent criminals just as severely as violent criminals. Many criminals with non-violent, non-serious crimes who have been sentenced under the harsh 3 Strikes Crime Law have appealed their cases and were denied reevaluation by the Supreme Court. The 3 Strikes Crime Law allows the court system to punish criminals based off of the amount of crimes they have committed, rather than the severity. When considering who this law affects it can be extremely unnerving, and often seems cruel.
Brown, B., & Jolivette, G. (2005 October). A primer: Three strikes-The impact after more than a decade. Retrieved from http://www.lao.ca.gov/2005/3_strikes/3_strikes_102005.htm Gertner, N. (2012 May). On competence, legitimacy, and proportion. Pennsylvania Law Review, 160(6), 1585-1597. doi:Ebscohost database Grimes, J. N. (2010 January-December). The social construction of social problems: “Three Strikes and You’re Out” in the mass media. Journal of Criminal Justice and Law, 2(1-2), 39-56. doi:Ebscohost database Mandinach, G. M. (2012, January 4). The state bar of California. Retrieved from http://criminallaw.calbar.ca.gov/Publications/ThreeStrikesOpinions.aspx#sup Taylor, S. (2012 August). Unlocking the gates of desolation row. UCLA Law Review, 59(6), 1810-1868. doi:Ebscohost database Vega, K. D., & Galloway, K. (2012, October 8). ‘Three Strikes of Injustice’. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/09/opinion/three-strikes-of-injustice.html?_r=0