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Judges: criminal sentencing must be tempered by equity

If you became aware as a college student that a visitor walked inside a campus building and unlawfully extracted $44 worth of quarters from a vending machine, you'd think that such person would merit a bit of punishment, right?

How does 12 years in a state penitentiary sound?

If that outcome seems more than inexplicable to you, rest assured that it resonated in a similar manner with a panel of appellate court judges in one state who were weighing in on that sentence, which was handed down earlier by a judge who was seeking to make "an impression" on the defendant.

That individual was a homeless person with a lengthy criminal record of petty theft. As the appellate court noted, he did not break into the campus building. Nor was he armed. He did not threaten any students.

"He did not even damage the vending machine," stated the appeals court.

The panel found an imposition of a 12-year term for stealing what it termed "a paltry sum" to be an egregious wrong, adjusting the outcome to align with the minimum statutory term for such an offense.

And then the judge writing for the majority delivered a few words regarding the real world and criminal sentencing.

"Judges must keep in mind that poverty is not a crime," he stated, adding that the draconian sentencing originally handed down should not in any rational sense apply to "penny-ante pilferage."

We believe that most reasonable people think similarly and absolutely agree that criminal sentencing must be proportionate to the criminal offense it is addressing.

Criminal defense attorneys think about that all the time, and routinely bring all their experience and acumen to bear on behalf of individuals who are confronted by the vast might and resources of state and federal authorities in criminal law matters.

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