Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

Well, Now

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Sometimes I get up in the morning, do my work, check my mail, and it’s as if nothing in the world has happened. I don’t even have mail from work.

Over night last night, on the other hand, a lot seems to have happened.   So let me see if I can address some of the points.

First, the easy one.  To answer Cheryl’s question about why some US judges give sentences in excess of any amount of time anybody could actually live:

In several US states, there are laws on the books that require that all prisoners be eligible for parole after serving one third of their sentences.

In many of these same states, a “life” (not “life without parole”) sentence is presumed to be 25 years, which means a third of the sentence is about 8 years total.

This does not mean that the state HAS to parole prisoners after a third of their sentences are served, and in fact it usually takes a couple of tries before a prisoner is paroled.

Back in the late 70s, however, there were several high profile cases where people who had committed things like murder and serial rape were released on parole after sometimes as little as 3 years, only to “re-offend,” as it’s put, almost immediately.

This was upsetting for all the obvious reasons, and what emerged eventually was this. If the guy has already committed six rapes and state law only allows 10 to 15 on any one count, you give him the whole set consecutively and the earliest they can let him out is after 30.

It’s one of those things.  I’m not really sure how I feel about it. On the one hand, it’s perfectly legal.  On the other, it obviously amounts to circumventing the intent of the law, which really was trying not to overcriminalze some things and to provide avenues for rehabilitation.

Of course, after the eighth or ninth rape, I’m not sure that’s an option anyway.

As to the other things:

I know that the theory is that we only charge people with “hate crimes” if we think we can’t get a sufficient sentence for anything else, but in the real world that’s simply not true.

We most often charge people with “hate crimes” when we want to “send a message,” and even if we’re sure we’re going to get the death penalty for the guy on trial.

There wasn’t a chance in hell that the killers of Mathew Shepard were going to go free, but there was universal outrage across the country that Wyoming had no hate crimes law and therefore the perpetrators couldn’t be charged with it.

It’s also absolutely certainly the case that if the murderer of Christopher Lane had been white and Lane himself had been black, a hate crimes charge would have been automatically in the works.

What I find disturbing is the official resistance to such a charge, on the assumption that when a black person makes racist statements about his intent in a crime we are to disregard those as just posturing, but a simple difference in race when a white person kills someone is to be assumed to be racially motivated.

It’s a perfectly legitimate question to ask why that is so, and if it should be so–and I say that in spite of the fact that I would get rid of all “hate crimes” legislation if I could, even in the attentuated form we have in the US.

We shouldn’t be criminalizing thoughts and ideas, and if we can’t get the defendant on the substantive charge, we shouldn’t be providing prosecutors with a back door to get him anyway.

As to the “is the system biased against minorities” thing–

Well, first, I’m with whoever said that they don’t take the SPLC seriously.  I haven’t, either, for at least the last 20 years. 

Yes, I know they did heroic work during the Civil Rights era, but for decades now they’ve been not just tendentious, but downright dishonest, with no interest in truth, justice or fairness if it gets in the way of self righteous indignation.

That does not say, of course, that there is no racism in the criminal justice system.

The endless math doesn’t speak to me at all, but I’m with Cheryl in believing that telling me that X group has a higher incarceration rate than Y group tells me nothing in particular.

If X group commits crimes at a higher rate than Y group, then X group SHOULD have higher incarceration rates.

But I do know something about one of these issues–“mandatory minimums” aren’t as simple as you’d think.

A lot of them require other factors beside the crime itself to kick in.  A lot of the drug charges, for instance, especially for smallish amounts, only trigger mandatory minimums if the perpetrator is ALSO found with weapons at the time of arrest.

There are some other factors in some of them, but the bottom line is that in order to find out if the law is being applied in a racially discriminatory way, it’s necessary to find out if suspects are being arrested under the same set of circumstances while white defendants are having their gun possession (or whatever) ignored.

FWIW, I do not think that there is any racial bias going on in law enforcement and criminal justice in a systemic way, and certainly not in a systematic way.

BUT–I do think that juries have an emotional tendency to be more likely to convict when the defendant scares them, and I think that the media is so full of stories about young black males doing God knows what, a jury–and especially a jury of women, and not just white women–will tend to be emotionally prone to convict from off.

But the issue isn’t that simple, either, because juries tend to be emotionally prone to convict ANYWAY.  It’s really appalling how many jurors will insist that if the police arrested the guy, he must have done SOMETHING.

And that’s black or white or Hispanic, male or female or whatever.

Of course, living out here, I have something of a skewed perspective.

We don’t have a lot of minorities in the rural communities around me, and fromwhat I can tell we seem to arrest and convict lots of white drug dealers and meth makers.

And they don’t get treatment.

I always thought that was a class thing, not a race thing.  And I thought that was what was going on in the coke/crack thing.

The important issue at the bottom of it all was that the people likely to offend were rich or poor, not black or white–lawyers like us use cocaine, poor people use crack, or meth. 

It is Saturday, and there are Things To Do.

Written by janeh

August 24th, 2013 at 11:16 am

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response to 'Well, Now'

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  1. Largely in agreement. I’d like to put in a plug for more courts and expanded parole departments, though. We need to be a lot better about speedy trials. If the guy’s guilty, we need him off the streets and not out on bail. If he’s innocent, we certainly don’t want him held pending trial. It’s not fair to him, and he might pick up bad habits.

    And parole officers, by all accounts, are seriously overtasked. We can’t do much about murderers, who seldom re-offend, and maybe all we can do with sex offenders is keep them locked up until the hormones die down, but we’ve got a huge mass of less serious misbehavior–theft of one sort or another, beating people up–who ought to be out working and paying taxes, and need to be watched and chivvied along until they develop new habits. I could be wrong, but I’d rather pay a parole officer to see the kid showed up on time for work and stayed away from the old gang than pay a prison guard to keep him indoors socializing with a bunch of criminals.

    And of course we lock up people who aren’t like Us. We, after all, have potential which would be wasted in prison.

    Sometimes I look at people involved in perfectly legal–or sort of legal–activities, and find myself thinking that some of that potential SHOULD be wasted, but that’s a separate comment.


    25 Aug 13 at 8:30 am

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