Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum

Three Strikes laws

Rate this topic


Recommended Posts

In another venue, someone asked if "Three Strikes" laws are an similar to "Double Jeopardy". The idea of double jeopardy is that if someone has been tried for a crime, he is not tried for it again. In typical "three-strikes" law, a person committing a crime might face significantly more punishment if he has already been convicted of two other crimes in the past. Is this similar to re-trying the person for a crime for which he has already been tried and punished?

I think three-strike laws are sound in theory. They're based on the idea that we have more objective evidence that a person who is coming up for a third time has adopted crime as a lifestyle, and has not changed his ways even after being punished before. Therefore, it is legitimate to use such evidence.

I wouldn't be surprised if there are actual problems with the concretes of three-strike laws, or in their implementation. However, I think the principle of using past behavior of evidence of a criminal pattern (rather than a one-off crime that a person might not repeat) is a valid legal one.

Comments?

Link to post
Share on other sites
In typical "three-strikes" law, a person committing a crime might face significantly more punishment if he has already been convicted of two other crimes in the past. ... I wouldn't be surprised if there are actual problems with the concretes of three-strike laws, or in their implementation. However ...

It is difficult to discuss without being specific: different states have different laws. Also, you say "crime" but even among felonies, there are "Category I" and "Category II" crimes, with Arson being less severe than theft of an automobile. (It's OK for a businessman to torch his establishment, but stealing a car is like stealing a cowboy's horse.) So, as you note, there are specific problems.

The general problem is that such laws remove discretion from the bench. No law can give all the whereas and wherefor contingenices, but the judge has all the case files and can see circumstance that might warrant the harshest penalties on the first or second offense for one person and not for the fourth of fifth of another. Three strike laws replace the bench with legislation, crossing the lines of separation of powers.

But, I grant that so far, we are philosophizing, not discussing facts.

I read the Wikipedia article and I note that generally all of of egregious cases involved habitual offenders. Minor though their crimes were, they were the repeat customers of the criminal justice business.

(more later)

Edited by Hermes
Link to post
Share on other sites

As I see it, the problem with the law is that its intent is not strictly to protect individual rights. One would have a hard time objectively justifying a law where the premise of the law is "giving" chances to criminals to commit crimes against innocent people. Conversely, the opposite way of looking at it is just as problematic from an objective standpoint. How does it protect the rights of individuals to broadly classify crimes and pick the arbitrary number 3 as the point of mandatory removal from society?

Link to post
Share on other sites
As I see it, the problem with the law is that its intent is not strictly to protect individual rights. One would have a hard time objectively justifying a law where the premise of the law is "giving" chances to criminals to commit crimes against innocent people. Conversely, the opposite way of looking at it is just as problematic from an objective standpoint. How does it protect the rights of individuals to broadly classify crimes and pick the arbitrary number 3 as the point of mandatory removal from society?
I'm not sure what you're saying.

There are many things that ought not to be crimes: say drug-related, prostitution-related, tax-code related, etc. So, if one such thing gets counted in the three and results in a person being sent to jail, that is wrong. So, it is fine to say that given the types of acts classified as crimes today, a 3-strikes law is unjust. If so, the problem is with the current classification of crimes. The question raised in the OP was about the double-jeopardy aspect: i.e. whether a principle like 3-strikes is a valid legal principle in a context where crimes are really crimes. The question is: in the context of real crimes, is it a valid legal principle that one can increased the punishment of the N-th crime because it is the N-th. My answer -- from post #1 -- is that it is valid to do so.

Link to post
Share on other sites

3 strikes is an absurdly unjust and improper form of "justice" to begin with. I know so many people that have gone away to prison for a LONG time for absolutely silly little things because it was their 3rd strike, and half the time the other 2 things were pitiful as well. It is a system open to rampant abuse and I don't think it could be abused more than it already has.

Edited by CapitalistSwine
Link to post
Share on other sites
How does it protect the rights of individuals to broadly classify crimes and pick the arbitrary number 3 as the point of mandatory removal from society?

OK, what is N? Why 3 and not 1 or 4 or 12? How do you objectively decide that number?

Case 1: Brooklyn Burrough, New York City. A common street scam is for one member of a gang to sell one dollar "raffle tickets" for "big giveway" inside this storefront, a $1000 flatscreen or whatever. When enough people are inside, a different guy comes out from the back and says there's only a few of you here and I'm going to draw one ticket, but we thought we'd sell 1000 tickets and we need to sell them, so who wants to buy more chances at a dollar each to win this $1000 flatscreen. And he sells 10 or 100 or 1000 more tickets and he says that he needs to get something or someone and he leaves. They all left. It's a scam.

Later in the day, one of the marks sees them and confront. They beat him up. Satisfied with themselves, they walk over to a bar and get drunk, jaywalk, confront the motorist and bash out the car's headlights. They are arrested. Everything comes out in court. Three strikes.

Case 2: Outside Seneca Falls, near where County Road 118 becomes County House Road, Clem sells a blind horse to Charlie. Later that day, they duke it out. But they kiss and make up and go into a bar and get drunk, get into Clem's car and immediately hit a street lamp -- and it all comes out in court. Three strikes.

... and hey, why not, four?

Edited by Hermes
Link to post
Share on other sites
One would have a hard time objectively justifying a law where the premise of the law is "giving" chances to criminals to commit crimes against innocent people.

It is a fact that the average "first offender" has committed something like 35 felonies before first being sentenced to jail or prison. That is the deeper problem you identify.

However, it is also true at 20% of the goods on the market have no clear title. We Objectivists too easy glide "fraud" along with "force." We can say that your right to swing your fist stops where my nose begins. Whether, when, and to what extent you have misinformed me about the fitness of use or merchantability of your product is less readily defined.

As for force, people are given to it. It is a fact of human nature; and it often happens that the initial aggressor only becomes the last victim. How much time elapses, what intervening events occured, are factors. You think of a person walking down the street suddenly attacked and robbed. That happens. Knowing that my bachelor's is in criminology, for a graduate class in Geographic Information Systems, the professor assigned me a project in crime mapping. It is generally useless. I demonstrated my initial point by showing a map of our campus with so many pins that you could not see the buildings. So, yes, that kind of crime does happen.

But it is not the majority of police business. In 85% of cases, the victim knows their assailant: it was personal. The assailant may well still be a bad person deserving of harsh punishment -- but that is not an easy determination except in the abstract. In real life, victimology is an important part of criminology. Often, they both need to be prosecuted, just to get their attention.

A criminal justice system based on Objective Law would look very little like the retributionist violence that we call "justice" now in a society of mixed premises, many of which are based on Biblical teachings of divine wrath softened by redemption through sacrifice.

Edited by Hermes
Link to post
Share on other sites

Examples like that suggest that perhaps the three crimes ought not to count unless they were separated by trials, i.e., first crime, convicted, sentenced (or fined or otherwised punished, or even suspended), then second crime committed, tried, convicted, punished, then third crime. (I wouldn't require that the punishment, if any, be _completed_, just imposed and started.)

If such were done, what would be your attitude towards three strikes?

If the idea is to punish recidivism, then what recidivism is ought to be taken into account--going back to crime after being punished. So three crimes as a result of the same basic sequence of events that come out in court while trying something should not count under three strikes. If nothing else one could simply have someone throw the book at you (since it's overly thick) and get any ridiculous number of crimes out of one singe act!

Link to post
Share on other sites

OK, what is N? Why 3 and not 1 or 4 or 12? How do you objectively decide that number?

I suspect that government officials go with "3 strikes and you're out" because it's a baseball analogy, and baseball is popularly seen as the All-American Sport, which isn't really true since baseball wasn't invented here. I think they should go with a basketball analogy instead (since basketball was invented in the U.S.), like "5 fouls and your out, or two technical fouls, or one really flagrant technical foul. And the cops get two free throws."

J

Link to post
Share on other sites

It takes three points to define a curve, i.e. a trend. One convicted crime is a mistake, two is a coincidence, three is a pattern. Not saying it's the perfect number but it has a rational basis.

In addition to Steve's idea, there are many ways of making three strikes more objective. A ten-point system with felonies assigned 1-5 points each depending on severity and/or seperation of

felonies into categories like violent, fraudulent, and reckless/neglectful.

Besides recidivism, I suspect three strikes is a way of relieving stress on the system by keeping first time offenders from clogging the prisons and repeat offenders from clogging the courts.

Take all the drug, tax, and regulatory offenses out of the equation and we would be free to extend, contract, or remove the application of this law based on its objectivity rather than as a

logistical tool.

Link to post
Share on other sites
If the idea is to punish recidivism, then what recidivism is ought to be taken into account--going back to crime after being punished. ...
Well put. A "recidivism penalty" is a good way to conceptualize the principle. Then, "three strikes" is one attempt to achieve it. A recidivism penalty makes sense, even if three-strikes (or particular versions of three-strikes laws) do not. Edited by softwareNerd
Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...