Cruelty by Law
DOI link for Cruelty by Law
Cruelty by Law book
This chapter describes how California at the end of the 20th century came to embrace two especially harsh forms of mandatory minimum punishments: mandatory life for repeat offenders in its Three Strikes law and mandatory life for juveniles convicted of murder. The story begins with changes in cultural views of criminal justice, exemplified by Click Eastwood’s starring role in the movie, Dirty Harry. Statistical increases in crime in the state in the late 20th century, media attention to high-profile crimes of violence and public fear of crime and disorder helped fuel a new populist politics of tough on crime measures, enacted primarily through the state’s proposition system. The chapter describes the passage of Three Strikes and mandatory life for juvenile murderers. The effect of these measures is then considered, first their possible impact on violent offending and then evidence of disparate impact on the punished according to race. The historical discussion concludes with recent changes in state punishment policy that have begun to reduce long sentences and eliminate harsh mandatory penalties.
What lessons might be drawn from this history? One is that mandatory minimum penalties, if significant, represent a form of mandated moral disregard. They constitute legislative sentencing, meaning they effectively order certain sentences in cases without the sentencer having any specific information about the individual to be sentenced or particulars of the offense. Because of this, the sentencer cannot see the uniqueness of the person punished, nor have much concern for the person’s basic good. A brief case study in this process is presented with a juvenile who received a mandatory life penalty, Christian Bracamontes. Political lessons with respect to punishment policy are also considered.