Eugene Volkh critiques an NPR segment on “three strikes” laws, focusing on a man who got 25 years to life for stealing some videotapes. Eugene argues that by reporting it this way, NPR is biasing its report in a way that benefits the case against “three strikes” laws. In order to provide balance, NPR should have reported on the criminal’s entire lawbreaking record, not just the “third strike.”
That sounds correct – until Eugene fills in the details NPR left out: The man was “convicted, over a span of 13 years, of three felony residential burglaries, felony marijuana transportation, misdemeanor theft, and escape from federal prison.”
You know, I’ve heard about this case many times in the past, and I had always assumed that his first two strikes included genuinely violent felonies – assault, armed robbery, something. Contrary to Eugene’s view, the way NPR reported the story strongly benefits the pro-“three strikes” side of the argument, because it left open the possibility that this man had ever committed a violent crime which could justify a lifetime prison sentence.
In fact, judging from this example, the “three strikes” rule is even more unjust than I had previously imagined. 25 years for life for housebreaking, pot smoking and shoplifting? That’s ridiculous.
(To be fair, Eugene’s post acknowledges that some folks, given further information, “might well think that Andrade’s sentence is still unfair.” But he doesn’t seem to consider the possibility that NPR’s incomplete reporting may in effect favor the pro-“three strikes” side of the argument. Nonetheless, I agree with Eugene’s conclusion – reporters should sum up all three strikes, rather than just reporting the final strike.)
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On the other hand, I’m reminded of a conversation about “three strikes” I had with a woman at a bus stop a few years ago. The woman, who was Black, was in favor of “three strikes,” because under three strikes rules white people and Black people are both subject to extreme, unjust sentencing. She thought this was fairer than the previous system, in which only minorities were subject to extreme sentencing.