Analysis and Application – Sentencing

Posted: August 13th, 2013





The Effectiveness of a Three-Strike Law












The Effectiveness of a Three-strike Law

The three strike laws were set up in the early 1990s. Three strike laws were enacted by American states to punish repeat offenders. It is enforced on criminals brought to court for a third time. Three strikes laws were meant to reduce crime rates in the states where they were adopted. The first three strikes law was passed by the state of Washington in the year 1993. In this case, criminals who were convicted for three felonies were to be sentenced to life imprisonment. This was usually without parole. In 1994, the state of California also enacted this set of strikes laws. In California, a criminal convicted of three felonies faced a sentence of about 25 years to life (Brown et al, 2005). Creating a law that punishes repeat offenders was meant to discourage them from committing more crime. The effectiveness of three strikes laws has however been an item of debate for a very long time. While other people argue that the laws are harsh and unfair, others think that the laws have made a major contribution to the fight against violent crime. Three strikes have existed in most states for almost a decade, and their performance has attracted a lot of attention from critics. Critics however say that three strikes laws have failed in reducing the rates of crime in the states in which they are practiced. Some people however argue that three strikes laws are effective and fair in dealing with crime. Some of its supporters argue that these laws were effective in reducing the crime rates of the 1990s.

The California three strikes law is considered the harshest compared to other states. Critics have repeatedly complained of the harshness of the three strikes law practiced in California. The three strikes law in California took effect in 1994. The law was supposed to curb crimes such as attempted murder, robbery, rape, arson, kidnapping and burglary. It was enacted primarily to protect people against criminals who repeatedly commit crimes and lock in repeat offenders. These crimes were known as strikes. Someone who had been convicted of a strike and who faces another crime can have their punishment doubled and may not be released until after they have completed 80% of their sentence. A person who has previously been convicted of two strikes and who commits another felony can face a sentence of at least 25 years or life imprisonment upon conviction. According to Erik Holland and Alexander Tabarrok, the California attorney general’s (CAG) office has consistently insisted on the reliability of the law in reducing crime. The CAG claims that the law was successful in reducing murder by 4000 and other crimes by 800,000. Proponents of three strikes laws, on the other hand, argue that the law was successful in abetting crime surges in the early 1990s. They are supported by California statistics, which claim that the law has contributed to the sentencing of around 1200 criminals each year. They cite the fact that criminals are kept behind bars for at least 25 years therefore preventing them from committing further crimes.

Critics of the three strikes law have showed less concern for cases of people who are convicted for violent crimes. They are however concerned on the applicability of the law on people who have committed less serious crimes. They have argued that the sentences prescribed in the law are not fair enough and a person convicted for a crime such as shoplifting may end up spending 25 years in prison, similar to one who had committed a murder. They argue that such a sentence does not take into account the gravity of the crime and is therefore unfair and cruel. Critics have lodged multiple appeals in the courts against three-strike laws. One of the outstanding appeals that have been made includes the Leandro Andrade case. Andrade had been previously convicted for committing two counts of shoplifting at two different Kmart shops. He stole nine videotapes valued at a total amount of $153.54. According to California law, Andrade would normally face a sentence of around six months in jail and a fine not exceeding $1000 (Peschong, 2012). In this case, however, the judge took it upon himself to elevate the crimes to felonies. Andrade was therefore charged for committing two counts felony and was subsequently sentenced.

Andrade’s case shows a violation of the Eighth amendment. The eighth amendment states that, “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted” (Brown et al, 2005). Since Andrade’s case required a lesser punishment that that imposed the elevation of his crimes to felonies and the subsequent sentence was an outright violation of this amendment. The punishment meted against Andrade was cruel and unusual. The first logical argument against the actions of the California court goes against the decision to charge Andrade for crimes he had not committed. Charging him with a felony yet he had committed a petty offence was unacceptable according to the constitution and violated Andrade’s rights as provided for by the fourth amendment. Secondly, apart from changing the gravity of the crimes he had committed, the courts proceeded to charge him for those offences and even carried out a sentence that was much harsher compared to the crimes committed. Some court rulings have however supported the provisions of the three strikes law. One such case is Ewing Vs California. In this case, the Supreme Court ruled that it was constitutional to sentence a repeat petty offender to a life sentence (Brown et al, 2005).

The three strikes law was enacted to protect individual’s rights from criminals as espoused in the constitution and the human rights bill. The security of a citizen must be ensured by the government. The persistent question among stakeholders and observers has been on whether the three strikes laws have been effective in reducing crime rates. According to an article in The Tribune, crime rates have declined tremendously during the years that the three strikes law has been in force. The article cites a report from the non-partisan Legislative analyst’s office, which states that the crime rate in California had decreased by around 51% between 1991 and 2003. Critics however argue that this rate is characteristic of the national trend that has also registered a reduction in crime rates. It is however important to note that the national rate was la lower 37% compared to the rate of crime reduction in California. These figures develop the argument that the three strikes laws have served their constitutional purpose. The three strikes laws ensure that repeat offenders are kept away from the public hence protecting citizens from the harmful activities of these criminals. According to John Allan Peschong in his article on the Tribune, studies show that approximately two million would-be victims of crime were protected by the law. Another important contribution of the three strikes laws that Peschong notes is its ability to keep criminals away from the public. According to him, it also instilled fear on convicts on parole thus making them move to other states. These contributed to the effectiveness of the three strikes law in curbing violent crime in California and thus protecting citizens from criminals (Peschong, 2012).

The three strikes laws have been instrumental in reducing the rates of crime in the states in which they were imposed. The state of California is a perfect example of the applicability of the three strikes laws in curbing violent crime. The implementation of this process in California however faces major hurdles especially when it comes to dealing with petty offenders and the jurisdiction of the court. The gains far outweigh the costs however and the three strikes laws are making major strides in the correction of repeat offenders.







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