Those shocked by N. Korea’s 15-year imprisonment for small potatoes theft should leave room to be shocked by Virginia’s sorry state of affairs for stealing a $201 item
Highly-rated Northern Virginia DWI/Criminal defense attorney on the continuing unjust American criminal justice system
Of course it makes sense for people to be up in arms over North Korea’s recent sentence of fifteen years of hard labor against American tourist Otto Warmbler for his convicted theft of a political banner. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/mar/16/north-korea-sentences-us-student-to-15-years-hard-labour
If Warmbler did in fact steal the banner, he would have risked conviction in any country for such an act. Of course, the punishment is disproportionate to the crime
Although we might want to see the American justice system as more enlightened than North Korea’s, when it comes to theft sentencing, Virginia’s law is archaic and out of whack. Had Warmbler stolen the same banner in Virginia and had the banner’s value been proven to be at least $200.00, he would have faced up to twenty years in prison for felony theft.
Let us say that the shoe was on a different foot, and a tourist to Charlottesville, Virginia, had stolen a valuable flag at Jefferson’s Monticello while singing a pro-ISIS song (with the song of course being at once reprehensible and First Amendment-protected), and the tourist got sentenced to a few years for doing so. I would not hold my breath to see any appellate judge disturb the sentence, rather than saying that the sentencing judge had permissibly acted within his or her sound discretion.
Granted, unsuccessful efforts have been made to increase Virginia’s decades-old felony theft threshold that has not adjusted to inflation, and granted that plenty of retailers want no change in that threshold, to scare the crap out of anyone considering stealing anything beyond a small total amount. Nevertheless, this threshold is unjust to say the least, and must be increased now
The American criminal justice system is far from being sufficiently enlightened, starting by too many presumed-innocent people caged without bond pending sentencing, moving to Virginia’s crabbed criminal discovery system, continuing to Virginia’s system that allows prosecutors to scare defendants to plead guilty by their refusal to waive a jury that in many instances and locations can mean more racist jurors than judges on top of the jurors often being more wild cards than judges for sentencing, continuing to the many judges who choose judicial efficiency over a fair trial, continuing to the brutal capital punishment system, continuing to excessive mandatory minimum and guideline sentencing, and continuing to the slew of innocent convicted people (many of whom plead guilty rather than risking a worse fate), and continuing to frequently excessive sentences and excessive probation violation sentences.
Too many legislators and government executives have no backbone to make the criminal justice system more enlightened, at least not until we make clear to them that we will vote their butts out of office if they do not get such backbones pronto.