Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A twenty-five year prison sentence for stealing food?

For those of you who think only hardened, violent criminals are subjected to the harsh mandatory minimum sentences enforced across the country (including Oregon), let us introduce you to Gregory Taylor, a homeless, hungry Californian sentenced to 25 years in prison for trying to break into a church kitchen to find something to eat.

Thanks to the work of Stanford University law students and the law school’s “three strikes project,” a Superior Court judge amended Gregory Taylor's sentence to his eight years already served. The 47-year-old, who was sentenced in 1997 to 25 years to life, will be a free man in a few days.

Due to two prior robbery convictions in the 1980s (one for stealing a purse containing $10 and the other for trying to rob a man on the street—neither of which involved the use of a weapon, and neither of his victims was injured), Taylor was convicted under California’s notorious three-strikes law.

While Oregon’s mandatory minimum statute is not exactly the same as California’s, the result is the same. In Oregon, for certain offenses, the circumstances of the case are irrelevant and judges have no discretion with regard to sentencing. Regardless of the individual’s background, age, criminal history (or lack thereof), or the role he or she played during the criminal act, if convicted of one of the specified crimes, that person will be sentenced to prison for a very long time. If the District Attorney is unwilling to reduce the charge, even the best Portland criminal attorney will have few strategic options if their client is convicted.

Stated simply, the mandatory minimum-sentence requirement does not work. It sends homeless people to prison for years for trying to steal food. It prohibits judges from using their training, experience, knowledge and common sense when sentencing defendants.

Ask yourself why we should have judges if they’re not allowed to make the decisions that would best serve our communities?

1 comment:

  1. Very thought provoking. The older I get, the more I realize that very few sweeping, black-and-white generalizations apply generally. I hope there are those who can help "us" create laws for this "gray" world we are actually living in.