Who Calls the Third Strike?

Leandro Andrade was a nine-year veteran of the Army and the father of three. Andrade had convictions for residential burglary, petty theft, and transportation of marijuana. He was also an escapee from prison. Andrade was 37 when he was arrested and convicted of two thefts separated by a few weeks. He had stolen video tapes for his children.

Because California has a three strikes law, his case came under that provision. The mandatory sentence under the three strikes law was 25 years to life in prison. He was found guilty of both theft crimes and given two 25-to-life year sentences to be served consecutively.

Andrade appealed his sentencing. Over a period of several years, both state and federal court came to differing conclusions as to whether the sentencing violated the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution dealing with cruel and unusual punishment.

Eventually the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Andrade. Was justice done? The basics of the Supreme Court’s decision was the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act even though the crime that triggered the sentencing was the theft of video tapes.

How might we view the purpose of sentencing? Is it to maintain social order by discouraging the commitment of a crime? Is it to minimize likely public outrage for crimes for which the public believes punishment should be too lenient? Is it to exact vengeance (e.g., an eye for an eye)? Is it to prevent the likelihood that future crimes will be committed? Or might it be restorative in that the sentencing could help turn around a person’s life?

How might you think about the proper sentence for Andrade? Do you believe that such decisions should be left to a jury of one’s peers? Or do you believe that sentencing decisions should be prescribed by law to ensure equality of punishment? Who is most likely to make the most just decisions? How would you like to be judged?

Just imagine how our faith, our personal values, and our beliefs about atonement might influence what we think is just? Just imagine how we might think about justice? Is it best determined from a societal perspective or a personal one? What benefits does society gain by locking up Andrade for life? Just imagine how our concepts of justice reflect our own perspectives of humanity?

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 “There is a higher court than courts of justice and that is the court of conscience. It supersedes all other courts.”  – Mahatma Gandhi

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