Sunday, July 6, 2008

Does this make a mockery of the justice system?

I'm a little taken aback by the sentence handed down to a Texas man convicted of child abuse. James Kevin Pope drew sentences for multiple offenses totaling 4,060 years in prison, to be served consecutively, and a fine of $430,000.

The lengthy sentence includes the maximum life sentence for each of the sexual assaults and 20 years for each sexual performance case. The fine is also the maximum for these crimes.

Pope will be eligible for parole in the year 3209, according to Texas law.

"This sentence sends a strong message that the citizens of Parker County will not tolerate these types of sex crimes," said District Attorney Don Schnebly.

I'm not so sure about that message. In the first place, the years of the sentence are silly. We know that no human being is going to live long enough to complete the sentence - so why pass it? Why not simply have a system that says, "You're going to jail for the rest of your life, and you're going to die behind bars"? Or, if a fixed term has to be imposed, why not make it, say, 100 years?

As for the fine, that's risible. He's behind bars, for Heaven's sake! There's no way he's going to be able to earn money to pay the fine - so why impose it?

I'm not sure that passing sentences of such extraordinary length really sends any worthwhile message at all, except that those passing them either can't see reality staring them in the face, or perhaps that they're so darn vengeful that they don't care! I know that many in other countries read about such sentences and laugh. They think it silly, even stupid, to pass them when there's no possibility whatsoever that they can be fulfilled.

What do you think, readers? Wouldn't it be more sensible to pass a law that if the total sentences for a series of crimes add up to more than, say, 70 or 80 years, the sentence should automatically become one of "imprisonment for the term of the offender's natural life"? I'll be interested to read your responses.



Mulligan said...

i wonder if its not some sort of statistical manipulation to make the 'average sentence' higher. at a certain point the numbers become meaningless but its nice to see someone get a maximum sentence. i think giving less than the max shows an 'it could have been worse' attitude. maybe this guy wont get out on parole.

ideally i'd like to see 'em caught after the first offence, reading 'multiple offences' makes my blood boil most of the time.

Sevesteen said...

My guess is a fear of some future law stating something like "all prisoners eligible for parole after 10% of their sentence has been served with good behavior. I recall a sentence that was essentially "jail for several lifetimes, followed by death, served consecutively". The judge didn't want to sentence the critter to death, but wanted to ensure he never got out.

Anonymous said...

Chile Abusers statistically have a high degree of recidivism - repeating the offense when they are released. If he were to be just sentenced for the max on the worst offense, he could conceivably be released to commit more crimes. Maxing out multiple counts stops this from happening.
It is making a statement that bleeding heart parole boards in the future, or a benevolent fool of a Governor can't release him back into the population without answering a lot of questions to the public.

Erik said...

As for the fines, there has been several cases where people in jail have came up with an idea to make money, for instance making and selling art, or writing books about their lifes.
I guess it's also possible they might buy a lottery ticket and win.
A fine will make sure that should he get a source of income in any way, the fine will be imposed. Just because he doesn't have any money to pay it now, it's no guarantee that he wont in the future.

Bryn, North Wales, UK said...

As sevesteen said, the judges intention is that the convict remains behind bars for the rest of his life. As I understand your laws (viewed from the UK) multiple consecutive sentences would each have to be appealed on an individual basis, thus ensuring that each unsuccessful appeal leaves a sentence in place.
The alternative would see a single sentence possibly being negated by an appeal which overturned a single conviction among many.
The numbers generated by the sentencing system may cause some laughter, but I always ask those I hear laughing "Would you like this criminal living near you in 25 years time, having been paroled..... or even right now if he were released on a single appeal....".
I wish we had your sort of sentencing here in the UK, provided it were balanced by the American appeals system (and a Constitution!). As a reasonably law abiding type, I would be happy to live with such a system.

Crucis said...

I was on a jury in a murder trial some time ago. The perp was guilty---absolutely no doubt (this was during the period where the death penalty was not allowed.)

We the jury wanted to insure the perp never got out of jail. We also knew that if a specific term was given, he would be eligible for parole after serving 1/4th of the sentence (state law.)

So given his age, we gave him a term of 300 years. Our logic was that if he was ever paroled, he'd be too old to do much.

SpeakerTweaker said...

I, too, think that the sentence there is ridiculous.

However, the idea that anyone can be held "without possibility of parole" is just flat false.

So, I see little point in all of it.

Course, with a recent SCOTUS decision on the books, my option is off the table...


Peter (not our Gracious Host) said...

In order to reduce this sort of nonsense, how about requiring the state in cases such as this to keep the b@stard alive to serve out the full term? Unless they want to admit that the other 42 convictions somehow don't count.
Beyond that, how about setting a bounty on his head equivalent to what the state would spend to keep him locked up for a year (or five), and then 'accidentally' forget to close his cell door?

IceFire said...

Although the sentences seem laughable, I'm pretty sure that the intent is that the b@stard NEVER qualifies to get out on parole after serving a mere fraction of his sentence(s). Too many "life" sentences have been curtailed with the perp getting out after serving only a few years, and returning to the behaviour that got the critter tossed behind bars in the first place. The 4,060 year sentence was probably the only way the judge could figure to KEEP the creep behind bars where he belongs for the remainder of his life, thus protecting any potential victims from that particular perp.