>From Left Link - Australia's Broad Left mailing list.
Kim B

> Dear LeftLinkers
> Thought this might interest you in the context of mandatory sentencing. In
> this case it appears that bringing a felony charge against Kenneth Payne was
> a choice made by the DA and that the 16 year sentence was a choice made by
> the judge (rather than mandated), but it's a classic example of what can
> happen in an out-of-control system in which the punishments rarely (if ever)
> fit the crime.
> I highly recommend this list : one email once a week and always interesting
> and well-written.
> Ciao
> elizabeth
> Sixteen Years for a Snickers Bar
> By Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman
> Last week, a Texas jury recommended that Kenneth Payne, 29, spend 16
> years in jail.
> Payne's crime? Stealing a Snickers bar from a Tyler, Texas grocery
> store on December 17, 1999.
> When Smith county Assistant District Attorney Jodi Brown was asked by
> the Associated Press how she could justify 16 years for the theft of a
> Snickers bar, Brown replied "It was a king size."
> A king size Snickers bar it was. Retail price: $1.
> In Texas, if you steal property worth less than $500, it's a misdemeanor
> punishable by a fine of $500 with no jail time. The case was brought as a
> felony because Payne was a habitual offender. He had ten previous
> convictions -- including one for stealing a bag of Oreo cookies -- and had
> spent seven years in Texas prisons. When he shoved the king sized Snickers
> bar down his pants he was on parole for felony theft.
> Still, the guy was a petty thief -- he stole cookies and candy bars.
> Compare Kenneth Payne's plight to those of a group of white-collar and
> corporate criminals who also were sentenced this month.
> Hoffman-LaRoche Ltd. pled guilty for their roles in an international
> conspiracy to suppress and eliminate competition in the vitamin industry
> -- what the Justice Department calls perhaps the largest criminal
> antitrust conspiracy in history. The prison terms: four months, three
> and one-half months, three months and three months. (The four executives
> were also fined anywhere from $75,000 to $350,000).
> Also this month, three cruise line employees were sentenced for their role
> in dumping pollution into the Alaskan Inland Passage from a Holland
> America cruise ship. The three employees were each sentenced to two years
> unsupervised probation and fined $10,000.
> These are not unusual sentences for white-collar criminals. In fact, it is
> unusual to see a white-collar criminal do time.
> So, how can it be that Kenneth Payne is doing 16 years for stealing a one
> dollar Snickers bar while the former executives of some of the world's
> largest corporations get off with a few months in prison -- after being
> convicted of a crime that cost consumers hundreds of millions of dollars?
> It's like Richard Pryor said -- in our country -- justice means "just
> us" -- regular folks -- and not them -- the people who call the shots --
> who end up in the slammer.
> This double standard permeates every aspect of our criminal justice
> system.
> The other day, for example, we were listening to National Public Radio,
> and up popped a debate about whether felons should be allowed to
> participate in a democracy.
> On one side of the debate was Mark Mauer of the Sentencing Project. Mauer
> pointed out that in 46 states, you can't vote if you are in prison. In 16
> states, if you were convicted of a felony -- even if you get out of prison
> -- you are disenfranchised for life. Mauer estimated that 13 percent of
> adult black men cannot vote as a result of a felony conviction right now.
> On the NPR show, Roger Clegg, an attorney with the right-leaning and the
> slightly misnamed Center for Equal Opportunity (Linda Chavez' think tank),
> made the argument that felons shouldn't be allowed to vote. "If you aren't
> willing to play by the rules, then you shouldn't have a say in making the
> rules," Clegg said.
> "And people who have been convicted of felonies, which are by definition
> serious crimes, shouldn't be given a role in deciding how the government
> should be run," Clegg said.
> After hearing this, we called up Clegg to ask what he thought about
> banning corporate criminals -- like BASF and Hoffman LaRoche, who had
> engaged in perhaps the most egregious criminal antitrust conspiracy in
> history -- from "deciding how the government should be run." (Corporations
> of course don't vote, but they do give money to elect candidates, they
> lobby legislators and law enforcement officials, and they mold public
> opinion through their public relations efforts.)
> Gone was Clegg's unwavering absolutism.
> After much humming and hawing, Clegg admitted that "it makes sense to
> limit the political role of corporations when they have shown that they
> are not worthy of trust." But he quickly added that "because individuals
> and corporations are fundamentally different, you can't just apply the
> rules equally." Clegg questioned whether the First Amendment would allow
> prosecutors to strip corporations of their "rights" to influence how the
> government should be run. Clegg, of course, raised no such question when
> it came to stripping individual felons of such "rights."
> What about the death penalty? In a new book, Actual Innocence: Five Days
> to Execution and Other Dispatches from the Wrongly Convicted (Doubleday,
> 2000), Jim Dwyer, Peter Neufeld, Barry Scheck, report that in the 24 years
> since the death penalty was reinstated by the Supreme Court, about 620
> individuals have been put to death -- but 87 condemned persons had their
> convictions vacated by exonerating evidence.
> Most likely, innocent lives have been taken. All this while really big
> recidivist corporate criminals like Exxon, Royal Caribbean, Rockwell
> International, Warner Lambert, Teledyne, and United Technologies --
> criminals truly deserving of the corporate death penalty, get away with
> slap on the wrist fines.
> Bottom line: big corporations and white-collar criminals are getting away
> with it, while the political and media elites pull the wool over our eyes.
> Think of that next time you pick up a Snickers bar.
> Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime
> Reporter. Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based
> Multinational Monitor. Mokhiber and Weissman are co-authors of Corporate
> Predators: The Hunt for MegaProfits and the Attack on Democracy (Monroe,
> Maine: Common Courage Press, 1999, http://www.corporatepredators.org)
> (c) Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman
> _______________________________________________
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