Results tagged “Lockyer v. Andrade” from PlanetGreen.org

Hillary Clinton, Criminal Justice Reformist? - Not So Fast

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In tonight's spirited, unpredictable presidential debate, criminal justice reform became a hotly contested issue due to Donald Trump's recent espousal of "stop-and-frisk" policies designed to reduce crime in high-risk inner cities. Clinton, with the help of debate moderator Lester Holt, assailed this proposal as discriminatory, citing the New York federal court decision Floyd v. City of New York (959 F. Supp. 2d 540 (2013)). She then went on to call for the abolition of mandatory minimum penalties for nonviolent offenses and the removal of the profit motivation from the penal system, an attempt to win over dubious former Sanders supporters. However, her efforts to paint herself as a reformist gloss over the legal and political reality of this controversy.

Trump in League with Earl Warren, Thurgood Marshall

Hillary's reliance on Floyd - a case which is actually still in negotiations after a dropped appeal - may appear to be concern for the Fourth Amendment rights of minorities and the underprivileged, but she failed to mention the Supreme Court's contrary holding in the landmark 1968 case Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1. That case involved a stop based on reasonable suspicion, but not probable cause to make an arrest. Petitioners Chilton and Terry were standing on a street corner when Detective McFadden noticed them walking repeatedly up and down the same stretch of sidewalk, pausing each time to look into the same store window at length. After one of them did this, he would return to the street corner to confer with the other, who would then repeat the process. This happened a total of two dozen times before McFadden, suspicious that the two could be planning a robbery, approached the two men and asked their names. Terry was unresponsive, and the detective quickly patted down the outside of his clothing, found a pistol in the left pocket, removed the coat and confiscated the gun. Terry was later convicted on weapons charges, and his case made its way to the Supreme Court.

In an authoritative 8-1 decision, the Court held that the search of Terry was constitutional. Earl Warren, writing for the majority, set forth that "When an officer is justified in believing that the individual whose suspicious behavior he is investigating at close range is armed and presently dangerous to the officer or to others, it would be clearly unreasonable to deny the officer the power to take necessary measures to determine whether the person is in fact carrying a weapon and to neutralize the threat of physical harm." See also Preston v. United States, 376 U.S. 364 (1964), Adams v. Williams, 407 U.S. 143 (1973). This principle, not the inconclusive decision in Floyd, is still the law of the land.

Mandatory Minimums - Why They're Here to Begin With

On its official website, the Clinton campaign avows its opposition to mandatory minimum sentencing, stating that the practice "keep[s] nonviolent drug offenders in prison for too long -- and have increased racial inequality in our criminal justice system." However, her current stance belies her past support for the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, the law which rendered the courts powerless to correct the excesses of state sentencing policy.

AEDPA was passed in 1996 with the full support of Bill and Hillary Clinton, and one of its most controversial provisions effectively cut off federal habeas corpus review of state convictions. Many of the challenges barred by AEDPA involved the Eighth Amendment and double-jeopardy questions raised by so-called "three strikes" laws. The damage done by this denial of due process was real. In 1995, human trafficking survivor Sara Kruzan was sentenced to life without parole after killing her abuser in self-defense. In 2003, Army veteran Leandro Andrade shoplifted nine children's videotapes worth about $150 and was sentenced to fifty years to life. Kruzan was freed in 2013, after spending eighteen years behind bars; Andrade is still incarcerated, and will become eligible for parole in 2046.

These injustices still occur regularly and these laws still stand because of Bill and Hillary Clinton's tough-on-crime stance, which apparently can be reversed far more quickly than the injury it caused.

Of Stolen Cartoons, Unsigned Indictments, and Denied Petitions

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Just yesterday, the Supreme Court denied review in Brooker v. Alabama, the Eighth Amendment case of a seventy-six year old man condemned under Alabama's "three strikes" law to life in prison on nonviolent charges. Despite compelling briefs from the petitioners and the obvious inequity of the sentencing practices, the Court chose continued inaction over a much-needed second look at our outdated, largely ineffective justice system.

This is not the first time that our nation's highest tribunal has declined to address the problem and consider all the relevant constitutional issues. However, it is still highly surprising that it would avoid the issue amid both the ongoing national debate over mandatory minimums and the changing political reality of criminal justice reform.

$150 = 50 Years


In November of 1995, an Army veteran named Leandro Andrade walked into a California Kmart store and left with five children's videotapes, which he had not paid for. Fourteen days later, he repeated the performance at another Kmart location, and was charged with shoplifting nine tapes worth, in all, roughly one hundred and fifty-three dollars. The theft of Batman and Casper is not usually worthy of much mention in the important debate over the criminal justice system, and it should never have been a major issue. After all, petty theft is a misdemeanor that usually carries only six months in jail - not two consecutive terms of twenty-five years to life, which is what Andrade got.

But he had two prior convictions on his record, and therefore was a casualty of the "three strikes" laws. These statutes impose mandatory minimum penalties on those already convicted of two felonies, no matter how trivial the third infraction is. Their proponents argue that they effectively deter habitual offenders and increase accountability for crime; but, in reality, they often result in blatantly disproportionate sentences that hinder the goal of eventually reintegrating transgressors into society.

In a later challenge, the Ninth Circuit granted relief to Andrade on the grounds that his sentence was "cruel and unusual punishment," and the Supreme Court subsequently agreed to hear the case. It appeared to be a clear-cut example of inordinate, unrealistic penal practices, and the lower court's decision was almost universally expected to stand. However, the Court chose to reverse, reasoning per Justice O'Connor that because a possibility of parole still existed (in 2046, when Andrade would be eighty-seven years old), the sentence was not "contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law" (28 U.S.C. §2254). By invoking an ordinary statute to avoid addressing a constitutional question, the Court narrowed its own ability to grant relief further, resulting in the untrammeled long-term incarceration of relatively petty offenders across the country.

However, even though the Court may have rejected the Eighth Amendment argument against mandatory sentencing, the Constitution and common-law decisions interpreting it still indicate the illegality of the practice.

Separation of Powers

Despite the ruling in Lockyer v. Andrade, the courts have always recognized that the ability of a judge to tailor the law to the facts of a case is essential to substantive justice. As Justice Holmes famously observed: "The life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience... and it cannot be dealt with as if it contained only the axioms and corollaries of a book of mathematics" (The Common Law, 1881). Justice Frankfurter seconded this from the bench when he called due process "the least frozen concept of our law -- the least confined to history and the most absorptive of powerful social standards of a progressive society" (Griffin v. Illinois, 351 U.S. 20-21 (1956)). Now, though, the legislature encroaches on that judicial function through its ill-considered mandatory minimum laws. Not only does this interfere with the historical procedure of the courts, but it violates the constitutional system of checks and balances.

The 1965 case of United States v. Cox concerned a U.S. Attorney threatened with contempt of court after he refused to sign an indictment, even though he was acting under the direction of then-Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach. In a landmark decision, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals decided that the prosecutor was a member of the executive branch, and therefore that the contempt order unlawfully infringed upon the separation of powers (342 F.2d 167). The mandatory minimum laws have a similar effect, forcing judges to impose heavy penalties regardless of the dictates of individualized justice.

As Blackstone once noted in his Commentaries, "In all tyrannical governments the supreme magistracy, or the right both of making and of enforcing the laws, is vested in one and the same man, or one and the same body of men; and wherever these two powers are united together, there can be no public liberty." 1 B.C. 146. In today's system of compulsory inclemency, it appears that this basic tenet has been forgotten.

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