The United States government enacted statutes that require state courts to issue forced and longer incarceration periods to prisoners committing serious criminal offences on three or more occasions (Kieso, 2005). Its popularity was seen in 1990s with number of offences under the law differing from state to state. Persons convicted of felonies and having previous conviction records of violent crime do get longer imprisonment periods and sometimes life imprisonment. The law gives an ultimatum of not getting a mere punishment but a prison sentence. States have specified felonies and offences covered under this law. The offences include murder, violent robbery to residences using deadly weapons, sex offences including rape, assault with a robbery or murder intention among others. This essay is an argument giving reasons why the three strikes law is fair from the perspective of its constitutionality.
The Three Strikes Law
The justification for this law is the fact that recurrent law breakers seem to be the hardest criminals to manage. They seem to be impassive to internment for behavior change which leaves the three strikes law as the only fair option to deal with such criminals.
First, let’s start from examining the different motives of law offenders, assuming the fact that these are serious offences. If the law hunts them down and they still manage to repeat offences after serving their terms, then the three strikes law comes out as very fair. The law simply sums up all the possible sentences. This is because the first sentence did not work, the second one failed to correct the offenders, leaving the three strikes law as the only option that could protect society from danger. Continuous law breaking through committing serious felonies should deny the criminals some if not absolute degree of freedom.
The Three Strikes Law and Constitutionality
The constitutionality of the three strikes law may be challenged because of the level of disproportion in the sentences. According to Chemerinsky (2004), the punishment may seem cruel, unusual and in violation of the eighth amendment to the United States constitution. This is in regard to the state of California where the state department of corrections does not need third offence to be that serious to apply the law. According to Packel (2002), courts give life sentences to offences as petty as mere shop lifting. The law may seem unfair in this case, though it is not for the reason being that subsequent offenders need it because they do not seem to learn from previous corrections. The possibility of subsequent law breakers reforming seems to be null. The reason is that they continuously break the law starting with serious offences. If the third offence is not that serious, it is not a surety that the fourth one may not also be serious, it could be a murder. For one to commit serious offences more than twice without rehabilitation after conviction leaves room for the thought that the person may never change. The three strike law simply aims at repeat offenders who refuse to change from their criminal behavior which makes the law very fair.
The law simply leaves no room for regrets, and reduces the frequency of crime in the states considerably. The fact that the law does not give judges the discretion on the term of incarceration to impose on criminals eliminates favoritism. This is one of the reasons why the law is fair and should be implemented fully. The frequency, persistence and depth of felonies should remain as the ones dictating the length of imprisonment. The administration of law to defendants does not rely only on the last offence, but also on the detainee’s previous crime history.
Furthermore, the law acts as a physical incapacitation measure to habitual offenders (Helland & Tabarrok, 2007). The effectiveness of this law in incapacitation is that it enhances crime reduction as it keeps habitual offenders off the streets, and deters repeat offenders from committing crimes, which would otherwise earn them long jail terms including life imprisonment.
Passing of three strikes laws proves that the states have been tough on crime. The law has significantly reduced the level of crime in United States of America since implementation. This is a fair law because it has led to reduction of prison population as it serves as a deterrent to potential repeat criminals. This is more psychological as the criminals decide to think twice before involving themselves in crime. The point is that the law is fair as it makes potential repeat criminals to think twice and, in essence, it checks prison population. The main idea is fear of crime, which will make repeat offenders to reform. It has definite differentiations as to which crime is serious and violent, and which one is violent and not serious. Helland & Tabarrok (2007) argue that a violent offence includes physical injury. In California, one is applied the three strike law, if the first two crimes are serious or violent offences. The third need not be necessarily serious, it can be a felony. Fairness in this application is that the law has a broader definition of serious and violent offences. This makes it very effective in crime reduction and eradication.
Although one can question cost effectiveness of the law regarding the source of money to enforce it and the cost of the law versus effects on crime, it does not affect and touch fairness or unfairness of the law. It simply targets high rate offenders in the state, making them have a seriously modest impact on crime. The society needs to be crime free and this is what this law strives for. For this reason, the law is ethically fair and effective.
Given the fact that some criminal offences like shoplifting in California earn offenders longer imprisonments because of prior criminal records, it makes three strikes law look harsher (Caulkins, 2001), considering the fact that the criminals fail to learn and go on committing offences even after having faced jail terms, and makes the laws effective in dealing with hard core criminals, regardless of the depth of crime they commit. In California, though all offences are strikes, three of them earn one long sentence.
Let us consider a case involving a California resident, Santos Reyes (Erin, 2005). He committed a burglary in his young ages, then committed a robbery which was non violent. He later cheated in a driver’s test. This led to application of three strikes law and convicting him to 26 years of imprisonment. The fairness of the application of three strikes law could be questioned here. However, it can be justified because of the fact that Reyes had become a habitual offender. The fact that he began when he was still a juvenile makes him very dangerous, because no one knows what offence he would have committed next.
While agreeing with Helland & Tabarrok’s (2007) argument that administration of the law does not help in deterrence, it also does not make punishment cruel and unusual. However, the continuous committing of the offences remains cruel and unusual. The eighth amendment was not violated in this case and ruling was not cruel and unusual. Criticism of the three strikes sentencing is high based on the possibility of a multiple third strikes in a single charge, where a defendant gets two separate sentences running concurrently. This can extrapolate the sentence to 50 and more years or life imprisonment.
Organizations representing human rights criticize the law seeking reverse on some of its sections. They mostly base their arguments on the ethical implications for families of the defendants. While critically analyzing their basis, it is a hypocritical take because the fact that the defendants commit offences makes them unethical. To make things worse, they do it repeatedly. The only remedy could be application of the three strikes law which will bar them from committing more offences, whether minor, serious or violent ones.
Considering a case example involving Leandro Andrade who stole video tapes in an Ontario store and two weeks later went on to steal others in a mart in Montclair. Horn (2004) writes that the man had previously been convicted of other crimes like petty theft, burglary, drug transportation and prison escape. This means that he was a habitual offender. For the fact that this man was not willing to give up crime even after several imprisonments and jail terms, he earned the three strikes law application. The reason for that is the fact that he would not change and even after release, he got himself into another crime. Therefore, the three strike law is fair and is the only way through which the society can get rid itself of crime.
If anyone was to argue that punishment that courts impose on the habitual law breakers is cruel and unusual, then they would be simply endorsing continuous criminalization. They would be siding with criminals to tell them that they should go on with crime as others including human rights activists, who come in and argue on their behalf that the sentences are unusual. The essence is that crimes characterized by their repetitive nature are unusual. The three strikes law considers age factor but still bears in mind the societal safety. Minors under juvenile court receive care, treatment and guidance consistent with their best interests holding them accountable for their behavior and appropriate for their circumstances. This means that no matter how harsh the law may sound, it is still fair and considerate. The most important factor in this case, is public safety. The longer the habitual crime offenders stay in prison, the safer the public.
Civil rights campaigns advocating against three strikes law should put public safety first. This is because the law only applies to habitual offenders who endanger the society. They should bear in mind that it is not easy to predict the nature and time of a particular crime. With this, there is room for shielding the society against crime that could be predictive because offenders are kept behind bars. This strengthens the fact that the law is fair to the society at large. The basis of my affirmative argument is that serious and violent felony offenders with continuity to commit the same crimes should be incapacitated. This could be through imposition of the three strikes law to them.
In California, a juvenile burglary of a resident counts only if adjudicated in combination with another felony like armed robbery (Helland & Tabarrok, 2007).This makes the law fair as it gives the law breakers a second chance, which they break again. By putting aside this law simply because it does not consider the civil rights of defendants, one ignores safety of the public, which also has rights to be protected against danger from potential criminals.
Owing to the fact that three strikes law gets underway after the defendant has committed three offences, it means the offender has totally refused other ways of rehabilitation and redemption (Packel, 2002). Leaving such a defendant to go on living in the society leaves room for another offence which will still take them back to court and subsequently to prison. It will end up being a cycle and the only way of cutting it is through application of the three strike law to offenders.
The three strike law is the most effective and fair way of protecting the society from danger. Kieso (2003) writes that the law ensures that people committing serious and violent offences the third time get 25 and more year’s imprisonment without the possibility of bail. It is fair because the shorter periods of previous prison confinement did not change them, thus their absence from the society will ensure social safety and comfort. Generally, it is better to exclude a few individuals from the society and save the rest by ensuring that habitual criminals stay behind bars for the longest time possible.
According to Bazelon (2010), implementation of law ensures a great percentage reduction of serious felonies committed by adults. This law has the ability to eliminate or reduce serious and violent crimes from the society like rape, murder and other assaults in the society. The law is very fair in terms of safety of the society but considerably harsh to the criminals. One has to bear in mind that criminals have to be dealt with harshly in order to protect the society, because they commit crimes knowing their consequences.