Three strikes laws have been the subject of extensive debate over whether they are effective. Defendants sentenced to long prison terms under these laws have also sought to challenge these laws as unconstitutional. For instance, one defendant was found guilty of stealing $150 worth of video tapes from two California department stores. The defendant had prior convictions, and pursuant to California’s three-strike laws, the judge sentenced the defendant to 50 years in prison for the theft of the video tapes.
The defendant challenged his conviction before the U. S. Supreme Court in Lockyer v. Andrade (2003), but the Court upheld the constitutionality of the law. Washington and California police have reported that since the “Three Strikes” laws went into effect suspects have become more violent in resisting arrest.
A suspect, knowing that if convicted of petty theft will spend his life in prison has, quite literally, nothing to lose if he has to kill a few people to avoid arrest. Seattle Police Sgt. Eric Bardt was quoted as saying: “It now looks like some of these three strikes cases might try to get away or shoot their way out. Believe me, that’s not lost on us. We’re thinking about it. ” The result of this will likely be the continued broadening of the death penalty. There are a number of traditional sentencing factors, which a judge uses when selecting the precise sentence within the statutory sentencing range, that infringe on the constitutional rights of criminal defendants.
Consequently, judges routinely make sentencing decisions based on considerations that could not constitutionally be considered in the decision whether to punish an individual in the first place. A sentence may, for example, be increased on the basis of acquitted conduct, even though the Double Jeopardy Clause would forbid the state from retrying the defendant for that acquitted crime. 6 Courts often reject constitutional challenges to sentencing factors based on the ipse dixit that sentencing is somehow different, instead of examining there levant constitutional provision, as they would in any other part of the trial.
Courts use two principal rationales to support this idea of sentencing exceptionalism, first, a long established practice for courts not to recognize constitutional rights at sentencing; second recognizing constitutional rights at sentencing would hinder courts from achieving the goals of punishment in imposing sentence. Although courts have almost universally rejected similar arguments of expediency and preserving the status quo in other constitutional contexts, they have accepted them for sentencing.