The Attorney-General, National’s Chris Finalyson, has declared that the ‘3 strikes and you’re out’ Bill that National/ACT (and Finlayson himself) are about to vote for violates human rights.
From Finlayson’s report:
What does that mean?
Finlayson is saying that giving a life sentence to a person who is on their third strike for an offence that would see another person, who is not on their third strike, get as little as five years is unjust. See, a just legal system that upholds the rule of law should deliver, amongst other things, equality and fairness. For example, offenders should get the same punishment for the same crime and the punishment should match the crime. Three strikes fails both these requirements.
As Finlayson puts it “[the three strikes law] may result in disparities [in sentence] between offenders that are not rationally based”. The same crime could result in offenders getting different sentences for no good reason. That is arbitrary and any good legal system must avoid arbitariness.
Finlayson goes on to say “[three strikes] may also result in in gross disproportionally in sentencing”. That is, the punishment may be entirely too severe for the seriousness of the crime in the context of the punishment for other crimes and the normal punishment for the crime committed. We have seen this time and again in US states that have three strikes. There defendants have been given sentences of 25 years to life in prison for such crimes as shoplifting golf clubs (Gary Ewing, previous strikes for burglary and robbery with a knife), nine videotapes (Leandro Andrade, received double sentence of 25 year-to-life for 2 counts of shoplifting), or, along with a violent assault, a slice of pepperoni pizza from a group of children (Jerry Dewayne Williams, four previous non-violent felonies, sentence later reduced to six years), and Kevin Weber was sentenced to 26 years to life for the crime of stealing four chocolate chip cookies (previous strikes of burglary and assault with a deadly weapon)*.
No-one is attempting to excuse the criminal, and often violent, actions of these people. But we mustn’t violate the founding tenets of our legal system to punish them a bit more. If a person is a habitual criminal and an ongoing danger to the community, then, as Finlayson’s report notes, preventative detention is available to stop them offending. We have the tools we need. What we don’t need is the blind sledge-hammer of a three strikes law.
This is the second time in a week that Finlayson has been forced to announce that one of his government’s laws will violate the Bill of Rights. National/ACT are smashing our human rights and the bases our justice system needlessly, so they can look tough on crime. It’s not worth it.