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I'm fucking speechless...

[url]http://www.guardian.co.uk/usa/story/0%2C12271%2C908375%2C00.html[/url]

"50 years' jail for video thefts upheld

Duncan Campbell in Los Angeles
Thursday March 6, 2003
The Guardian

The United States supreme court has ruled that a 50-year sentence being served by a man who shoplifted videos as gifts for his children is not a "cruel and unusual" punishment.

The ruling was described as "barbarous" by campaigners against California's "three strikes law", which imposes mandatory penalties for third-time offenders.

By a majority of five to four, the supreme court decided that Leandro Andrade should continue to serve the 50 years imposed in 1995 for shoplifting videos worth £95 on two separate occasions.

Because he had committed past similar shoplifting offences, he was jailed in 1995 under the state's three-strikes law, which mandates a minimum 25-year sentence for each new offence, making a total of 50 years.

Andrade, who had a drug habit, had no record of violence and had stolen videos including Cinderella and Free Willy for his children.

"This is simply barbarous," said Geri Silva, executive director of Families to Amend California's Three Strikes (Facts), an LA-based organisation campaigning to exclude non-violent offenders from the effects of the law. "It shows the absolute inhumanity of the highest court of the land. If that is not a cruel and unusual punishment, I don't know what is."

The ruling came in response to a decision last year by the regional circuit appeal court in San Francisco that the 50-year sentence for Andrade and a 25-year term for Gary Ewing, who stole three golf clubs, were cruel and unusual punishments and therefore unconstitutional. California's attorney general, Bill Lockyer, appealed against the decision which brought it to the supreme court last year.

The court's decision upholding the three-strikes law was announced yesterday.

The California governor, Gray Davis, welcomed the decision. "This is good for California," said Mr Davis, one of whose main political donors is the group that represents California's prison officers. He said that the law helped to keep down crime rates.

Professor Erwin Chemerinsky, who represented Andrade, expressed surprise at the decision. He said that had Andrade committed rape, not shoplifting, he would have been given eight years rather than 50 because it would have been his first such offence.

The next likely development will be an attempt to amend the law during elections in 2004. Pressure groups, including Facts, are now collecting signatures to put a proposition to the electorate that would limit the three-strike law to violent offenders. At present, half of those serving three strikes sentences are jailed for non-violent offences.

"Opinion polls show that people do not want the law to be used for non-violent offenders," said Ms Silva of Facts yesterday, adding that she was hopeful of collecting enough signatures to put the issue on the 2004 ballot.

Three strikes was introduced after the abduction and murder of 12-year-old Polly Klaas in 1993 by a repeat offender out on parole. The girl's grandfather, Joe Klaas, has joined the Facts campaign saying the law should not be used against minor, non-violent offences. "