The Leadership Conference is working diligently to see that Tom Perez is confirmed as U.S. Secretary of Labor. Perez is an eminently qualified public servant and consensus builder who has dedicated his career to ensuring that all individuals are treated fairly and have the opportunity to succeed. He has served with integrity and distinction at the local, state and national level, compiling an outstanding record of achievement.
Three Strikes and You're Out: California Pushes the Limit
Feature Story by Civilrights.org staff - 11/15/2002Leandro Andrade was caught shoplifting nine videotapes including Snow White and Cinderella, a total value of $153.00. Thanks to California's three-strikes law, enacted in 1994, he will be in prison until he is 87 years old. Gary Ewing was caught trying to steal three $400 golf clubs and was given a mandatory sentence of life in prison. In the absence of the three-strikes law, he would likely have received a sentence of as little as three years.
California's law sets a mandatory sentence of 25 years to life for any person convicted of a third felony. While this type of sentencing scheme has become quite common across the United States, California's law has a unique twist: even if a person's third offense is a misdemeanor the judge has the discretion to treat the third offense as a felony, therefore triggering the three-strikes sanction. Other states that impose longer sentences for a third offense generally require that the third crime be of a violent or serious nature. In contrast, in California, approximately 350 people are serving life sentences for crimes such as petty thefts like Andrade and Ewing.
The constitutionality of California's three-strikes scheme is now before the Supreme Court. The question presented is whether the statute violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against "cruel and unusual punishment."
The November 5 argument before the Supreme Court centered on whether the sentences imposed by the California three-strikes sentencing scheme were disproportionately harsh compared to California's other criminal statutes.
Ewing's attorney argued that the court should focus on whether it was permissible in our constitutional system to sentence a person to life in prison for committing a misdemeanor. "This still remains shoplifting three golf clubs, that's the crime he is being punished for."
But Justice Antonin Scalia expressed little sympathy for Mr. Ewing's predicament, asserting that Ewing is "precisely the kind of person you want to get off the streets" after looking over his record consisting mostly of petty crimes.
Andrade's lawyer tried to highlight the unfairness of his client's sentence by pointing out that Andrade had received a harsher sentence for shoplifting videotapes than many others in California receive for rape or second-degree murder. "There is no limiting principle," he argued.
Michael O'Neill, a member of the U.S. Sentencing Commission that sets federal sentencing policy, described these cases as sympathetic. "A father stealing videos for his kids? You don't get better than that - it's like stealing a loaf of bread to feed his family."
Nevertheless, this Supreme Court has not shown a great deal of sympathy for criminal defendants in the past and may also be reluctant to interfere with a states' ability to set the appropriate punishment for violation of the state's criminal laws.
A ruling in this case is expected next year.