Several recent news stories bring into question our so-called justice system.
A California man has been sentenced to up to eight years in prison for stealing a $3.99 bag of shredded cheese in a case critics say shows the need for reform of the state’s criminal justice system and the overcrowded state of its prisons.
Robert Ferguson, who prosecutors say has a nearly 30-year record of convictions for burglary and other offences, avoided a life sentence under the state’s controversial “three strikes” law after a psychological evaluation deemed him bipolar and unable to control his impulses to steal, the Sacramento Bee reported.
Mr. Ferguson is a career criminal that has spent nearly 20 years in prison on and off, but is an 8 year sentence for steeling cheese justified? He could have gotten life in prison but got off on a technicality.
We’re not suggesting that criminals should not be punished, especially those who have violated the property rights of others, but eight years?
The sentence in this case was based not necessarily on the crime he just committed, but a combination of this crime and past crimes he committed. Double jeopardy anyone?
Mr. Ferguson should certainly spend some time in jail for his crime against the property of another, that is not being argued. But in a country purported to be the beacon of freedom for the rest of the world, what does it say about our society when we have the highest per capita incarceration rate in the world?
Granted, Mr. Ferguson committed an act against another. But what do we say about the justice served to people like Walter Wooten of Texas, who this week was sentenced to 35 years in prison for possession of marijuana?
For being caught with just over a quarter pound of pot, 54-year-old Henry Walter Wooten will likely spend the rest of his life behind bars, thanks to a jury in Tyler, Texas.
His prosecutor, Smith County Assistant District Attorney Richard Vance, originally sought a sentence of 99 years over the 4.6 ounces of marijuana police found in Wooten’s vehicle, according to published reports.
Wooten was reportedly caught smoking pot within 1,000 feet of a day care center, within the radius of a so-called “drug free zone.” Tipped off by the smell, police would later search the man’s vehicle, only to discover his cannabis stash and a digital scale, according to The Tyler Morning Telegraph.
The difference between steeling cheese and smoking or possessing marijuana is quite clear. With the cheese thief, we have someone who violated the property rights of another. Who is the victim in Mr. Wooten’s case? It seems that it is Mr. Wooten himself.
While corporate financial leaders rob the American people blind and elected politicians sell their souls for campaign donations without so much as an investigative inquiry, a pot smoker like Mr. Wooten has his life literally taken away for engaging in an activity that harms no one, except, arguably, himself.
While it is easy to read news stories like these and suggest that they “got what’s coming to them,” we as individuals often fail to look in the mirror.
Everyone reading this post has broken the law, most of us will probably break a local, state or federal law today, and not even know it. Luckily, the prosecutors will not bring justice to you, as they did to Mr. Ferguson and Mr. Wooten, because if they did, you might be spending time in prison for misplacing a “0” on your tax return, or going 20 miles per hour over the speed limit, or spanking your kid on the butt.
Perhaps you posted a comment on a web site with a racial undertone making you a hate criminal. Maybe you incited violence, even though you didn’t think you did, someone else construed it as such.
Maybe you tried to intimidate or coerce someone with the idea that certain government policies are tyrannical, and if you did, you may have committed a violation under Patriot Act. You probably won’t be prosecuted for it — yet.
And for those who haven’t ever broken a law here in America, and never plan on doing so, watch what you say. According to Article 29 of the United Nations Declaration Universal Declaration of Human Rights you would be in violation of UN policy if your thoughts, writings or actions are exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations. Thus, you may very well be a criminal of the world and you may be sent to a world court, where justice for your crimes against humanity will be swift and severe.
The justice system in America (and the rest of the world) is not black and white. There is a lot of gray area, especially when we deal with “crimes” that have no direct victims to speak of.
Dictionary.com defines justice as:
the quality of being just; righteousness, equitableness, or moral rightness
Were the sentences imposed on Mr. Ferguson and/or Mr. Wooten righteous, equitable or morally right?
Perhaps instead of justice, we should call it what it really is: a system of punishment and tyranny.