Are sentences for crimes fair?

  • sarah kehoe
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sarah kehoe created the topic: Are sentences for crimes fair?

No. Sentences for crimes are not fair. the primary reason for this is that the justice system is not equal for everyone. Too often the rich seem to get away with things that the common person does not, among other biases that show. to assume equal justice would be to assume that we live in a utopian world, which we do not. the second reason is that the sentences themselves are unfair. Mandatory sentencing and three strike laws increase the inequality of the system. The fact that someone could spend more time in jail for a third arrest for being in possession of a couple of leaves that are restricted than they would for rapeing someone, in my opinion, is one of the largest injustices of all. Personally,( with the possible exception of dealing drugs) the sentence for drug possession and or use should be rehab, not prison time. As for other small crimes, burglary (which by definition implies no one was hold up and no one could have gotten hurt) should be like six months at most. I would discuss the issue of prison conditions as well, however, i believe that is a discussion best suited for its own discussion.

I would love to hear your opinions on this subject. Please chime in :)

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  • Kol Drake
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Kol Drake replied the topic: Are sentences for crimes fair?

Nothing like asking an easy question... *facepalm*

Are sentences for crimes fair?

There are SO many factors one could toss out -- 'poor criminal vs rich dude scammer', historically enacted laws that are still on the books and should be updated/revised; over punishing because it 'looks good' for some politico who decided it was time to 'be tough on crime'... until they get re-elected and on and on.

Take a few examples of white collar crimes... sure, it seems like 'that rich dude' got away with murder! (we shall ignore making jokes or comments about OJ Simpson here) BUT, sometimes even 'rich dudes' get their tails handed to them.

Example 1: Chalana McFarland was a real estate attorney who was accused of committing acts of fraud, identity theft, mortgage scams, money laundering and other equally devastating crimes. McFarland left lenders with $20 million in defaulted loans by using inflated property values and real estate flipping deals. She was sentenced to 30 years in prison and ordered to pay $12 million in restitution for her crimes. Was McFarland's sentence fair? When you take into consideration the amount of damage caused by McFarland's crimes and the fact that she could have received a life sentence, a 30-year sentence doesn't seem so bad.

Example 2: Thomas Petters was a business mogul who was accused and convicted of money laundering and fraud in a ponzi scheme that cost investors over $3.8 billion of their hard-earned money. Petters was sentenced to a 50-year prison term, although the prosecutors recommended a sentence of 335 years. When you consider the extent of the crimes and how many people were affected by Petters' actions, a 50-year term seems appropriate.

Example 3: On Dec. 10, 2008 it was discovered that an entire branch of Bernie Madoff's securities firm, Madoff Securities, was a massive ponzi scheme when an investor called his sons questioning about several million-dollar bonuses that were being handed out early. The next day, Madoff was arrested after his sons turned him in to the feds. On Mar. 12, 2009, Madoff pled guilty to 11 felony counts ranging from securities fraud to investment adviser fraud. The full extent of the financial damage he created is not known, but it is believed that he lost $50 billion worth of money from investors. Celebrity investors Madoff scammed included Steven Speilberg and Kevin Bacon. Madoff is currently serving a 150-year sentence in a federal correctional complex in Butner, N.C.

One might say that nearly all white-collar crimes tend to be of a non-violent nature, BUT they most certainly have their victims. Victims are often financially affected to a great degree, and some have their life savings wiped out. Being lenient for crimes such as fraud, identity theft, etc. -- the only winner is the culprit. White-collar crimes should be punished with stern judgment, just as any other crime would be. Although no blood is shed with white-collar crime, it adversely affects the lives and futures of the victims.

The other extreme would be as you noted... some poor schlub is pulled over for a busted tail light and is found to have an illegal 'smoke' or two in his possession and gets tossed in jail and railroaded into a 20 year 'mandatory sentence'. That's not right either. Unless the guy has been a perpetual offender and... and... and... etc... there is no reason to bust his chops over a stupid smoke or two. However, we have a 'system' which has fought the 'war on drugs' for decades now -- spending billions since the 1960s -- and failing to curb 'the war'... only making the penal system a 'business for profit' and even interstate commerce in 'warm bodies' so they can get the most federal funding to continue keeping those jail beds filled... even if it's for stupid offenses like the one above. The poor get hammered and the system keeps it's pockets stuffed.

While driving about today I was listening to Public Radio and they were discussing a case in Oregon. From NPR >> On July 5, in a Multnomah County courtroom, prosecutors told 12 jurors that Olan Williams was guilty of two counts of first-degree sodomy. After a few days of testimony and four hours of deliberating, a jury found Williams guilty of performing oral sex on a man who had passed out drunk at his apartment nearly two years earlier.

Two jurors disagreed with that verdict, however. In 48 other states, that would be enough for a hung jury. But Williams was sentenced to more than eight years in prison. “In Oregon you can be convicted of any felony, other than murder, … on a 10-2 verdict,” said Ryan Scott, who took over Williams’ case after his conviction. “In every other state except Louisiana it needs to be unanimous verdict.”

NPR went on to explain why it is the way it is...
“The original purpose of Oregon’s non-unanimous rule really has behind it discrimination,” said Aliza Kaplan, a professor at Lewis and Clark Law School in Portland, where she directs the Criminal Justice Reform Clinic. Oregon’s unique law was passed by voters in a 1934 ballot measure. In doing so, voters made it part of the state’s Constitution.

Kaplan said it was originally meant to prevent European immigrants from having a say on juries.
“Everyone must really understand the times,” she said. “This is the early ‘30s Depression, so economic troubles. We had just sort of come out of a 10-year period where the Klu Klux Klan was very popular around the state with a lot of power, a lot of political power.”

Louisiana has a similar law that dates back to 1880.
Like the rest of the South, Louisiana’s pre-Civil War economy relied heavily on slavery, said Thomas Aiello, a professor of history and African-American studies at Valdosta State University in Georgia. Aiello has written a book about non-unanimous juries in Louisiana and Oregon. He said the law made it easier to make African-Americans part of Louisiana’s criminal workforce. “It was very much a very specific Jim Crow law,” he said. “It was designed to get more black prisoners for the state’s convict lease system.”

Aiello said the law sought to re-enslave African-Americans. In 1898, it became part of the Louisiana Constitution.
“The vast majority of people in Louisiana believe the reason we have non-unanimous criminal jury verdicts is because we have some vestige of the Neapolitan code or because we’re that weird French state,” Aiello said. “They just don’t know because it’s been sold to them in a way that kind of disguises some the reasons for it creation.”

In 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Oregon and Louisiana’s non-unanimous jury laws. But Kaplan said the court has since contradicted its own ruling."

So, tossing common sense out the window... as well as politically motivated sentencing laws PLUS not changing with the times (1920s/Jim Crow laws) means each state has a nightmare of sentencing 'choices'... and tend to use the worst choices at even the 'best' of times. Especially when 'fixes' such as the panel for 'sentencing guidelines' took a simple concept and bloated it into a 850+ document of calculations / end point 'values' for figuring out how to give a mandatory sentence 'per the guidelines'. It's a mess.

Arguing the philosophy of 'what is fair' and then having to ask 'what is just'... could fill another full website. And common sense? I think one of the episodes of "Law and Order" hit on it more than a few times... sometimes it's not a case of 'what makes sense or is 'common sense'" -- it is... what does or does not 'apply' to the written rule of law.

Personally, I think anyone who kills someone else needs to be tossed in the slammer immediately. And, like some who do it 'with pre-meditation', etc. -- should get a fast ticket to the target range AS the target of the day. And like that idiot who spent time researching 'how to kill a kid in a hot car' and then went out and killed his own baby... then claims he 'forgot his kid was in the car'.... after just leaving the McD -- having gotten breakfast for himself AND his kid... instead of a life sentence, he should be taken out to Death Valley, California in the middle of summer -- welded into a car with mega reinforced windows and left to see how it feels to slowly die... just like he did to his victim.

NOT very Jedi like of me but there are times when the inhumanity of man just irks the **** out of me. Plus the stupidity of the court/jury to say.... well, we are against being 'cruel and unusual' with punishment... so, to keep 'us' feeling good, we will just rule to have him put into prison 'for life' -- meaning me and you (Joe taxpayers) pay for free room and board for the next 50-60 years for this jerk. Again, me not being 'take the high moral road Jedi-like' ...


To 'fix' stupid sentencing.... it takes enough people to get out and petition and vote on changes to 'the system' before changes will happen. If not, folks will still get arrested for Bingo games that last than 5 hours (North Carolina); or if you cut down a cactus, you could be sentenced to 25 years in prison (Arizona); or You may not take a picture of a rabbit from January to April without an official permit (Wyoming); or it is against the law for a woman to drive a car in Main Street unless her husband is walking in front of the car waving a red flag (Waynesboro, Virginia).... and the list goes on and on...
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Jax replied the topic: Are sentences for crimes fair?

What amazes me is how many people (almost always white) think that the system is fair. They spout bs like 'don't do anything wrong and it won't matter.' Yet I just got a book about people wrongfully convicted. We have a huge problem with objectivity and fairness in the justice system. I hope this changes a lot in the coming years. It's something I want to spend more time fixing.
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