It is essential in an ordered society to believe that citizens who do wrong can be rehabilitated. This must be true for a society to function properly. In the U.S., our sentencing structures and guidelines are built with this very thing as a foundation.
However, there is a small portion of our society who despite all opportunities to rehabilitate, do not. This small portion of society who willingly choose to continue their lives of crime after having multiple types of intervention such as prison time, probation, alternative sentencing, drug court, inpatient drug treatment, etc..., are recognized as career criminals.
For several decades, studies have been conducted on crime and causalities by various bodies including major universities, criminologists and even the U.S. Department of Justice. These studies have found that approximately 80% of all crime is committed by 20% of all criminals. Some of the studies have provided slightly different numbers but all of them have found that a small group of criminals commit a vastly disproportionate number of crimes than their peers. (Wolfgang et al ., 1972; Petersilia et al ., 1978; Williams, 1979; Chaiken and Chaiken, 1982; Greenwood with Abrahamse, 1982, and Martin and Sherman, 1986).
These criminals are very antisocial and refuse any form of rehabilitative programs. The only time they might participate in such programs is when they are having their prison sentences shortened or risk of going to prison decreased because of their participation. They call it "buying time" because they know they are getting time off their sentences by participating in rehabilitative programs.
It is not uncommon for law enforcement officials all across the U.S. to encounter criminals on the streets who have amassed 10 or more felony convictions and that have been to prison 3, 4, 5 or more separate times in their past. When their background is examined, it is always found that these criminals have benefited from weak plea deals on cases, dismissals of cases in exchange for guilty pleas in other cases and various other forms of settlements of cases based on judicial economy rather than the two things that should be considered the most, protection of society and punishment.
Knowing all of this, it therefore seems to be common sense that law enforcement and the justice system should focus greater energy and resources toward those that commit the majority of the crimes. This is the very purpose of habitual criminal laws; to address the recidivists. In all 50 States and on the Federal level, there are habitual criminal laws of one kind or another. Some are very effective and some are not. 26 states currently have habitual criminal laws that include sentences of life without parole.
California has what is probably the most publicized campaign against habitual criminals known as the three strikes law. There is plenty of evidence that the laws in California have provided significant benefits both in protecting citizens from further harm but also in fiscal impact to the California prison system.
Calculations based on the California Crime Index indicate that between March of 1994 when three strikes was first signed into law and the summer of 2004, there was a dramatic drop in California's crime rate. Whether or not such a decline over those 10 years could be attributable to the three strikes sentencing scheme, other sentencing legislation enacted during the decade, changes in demographics, economic trends, or a combination of these factors, the crime rate in California fell by approximately 45% during this 10-year period. (Prosecutors' Perspective on California's Three Strikes Law - A 10-Year Retrospective, published 2004)
The prison system in California has seen its prison population numbers stabilize and has actually seen a massive reduction in the rate of increased spending in the budget for corrections. During the 10 years preceding three strikes (1984 to 1994), state expenditures for corrections increased nearly 220%. This is more than four times greater than after the enactment of three strikes.
"Many police officers, corrections officers and others, both inside and outside the criminal justice system, have noted that criminals fear three strikes. These people have also found that some criminals have modified their behavior. For once felons are worried about the criminal justice system and that has proven to be a deterrent factor. Despite predictions that the law would incarcerate many youthful offenders, for the 83 three-strikers sentenced to date (1997), the average age is 37 years old. These are career criminals, not likely to "outgrow" their antisocial behavior with added maturity". (Washington Policy Center, "Three Strikes You're Out; A Reform that Worked", published 1997)
The U.S. Supreme Court has frequently recognized that a State may punish persistent criminal offenders more severely than it punished other offenders:
Solem v Helm, 1983
Rummel v Estelle, 1980
Oyler v Boles, 1962
Graham v West Virginia, 1912
Even more recently on March 5th of 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court reviewed a California recidivist statute in Ewing v California. The finding was, habitual criminal sentences do not violate the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution which prohibits "cruel and unusual punishment". The court noted "...it reflects a rational legislative judgment, entitled to deference, that offenders who have committed serious or violent felonies and who continue to commit felonies must be incapacitated."
In Nevada, there are habitual criminal laws that are similar to those in California. At the end of February 2009, there were 525 inmates in the Nevada prison system that were serving habitual criminal sentences that essentially vary from between 5-20 years, 10 years to life or life without parole. This is only 3.9% of the total Nevada inmate population. Based on the decades of criminological studies showing that 80% of all crime is committed by 20% of all offenders, shouldn't the number of inmates in prison who are serving habitual sentences be closer to 20% or even higher since this is the special breed of criminal that needs to be incarcerated the most?
One prime example of the positive effects of the habitual criminal laws in Nevada is a 2006 case on a defendant named Daimon Monroe, aka Daimon Hoyt (8th District Court of Nevada, case # 06-C-228752). Monroe had previously been convicted of 15 felony counts in a criminal case in 1992, 2 felony counts from a criminal case in 1993 and 2 felony counts from a criminal case in 1996. Almost all of his felony convictions involved him committing commercial burglaries. One of his prior convictions was for being an ex-felon in possession of a firearm. Another was for evading a police officer which arose from a car chase that resulted in a roll over crash. Monroe had been to prison two times before.
Monroe completed his second stint in prison and got out in 2001. Monroe returned to committing commercial burglaries almost immediately after getting out of prison. Monroe continued committing commercial burglaries between 2001 and 2006 without being caught by law enforcement.
It is conservatively approximated that Monroe had committed several hundred burglaries which was substantiated by testimony of his longtime girlfriend. The investigation resulted in the seizure of approximately $2,000,000 in stolen property from Monroe. Monroe had also amassed close to $200,000 in bank accounts from the sales of stolen property, which was seized. Monroe was arrested in 2006 and was convicted of over 30 more felony counts in three different jury trials.
In 2008, after the second of three different trials on Monroe, he was sentenced as a habitual criminal by District Court Judge Stewart Bell. At sentencing, Judge Bell told Monroe that in his 30 plus years of experience in the justice system that Monroe was the most prolific criminal he had ever encountered or had heard of. Judge Bell sentenced Monroe to consecutive terms of life without the possibility of parole.
To finish this story on Mr. Monroe, it should be known that he has also since been tried for soliciting the murder of a District Court Judge, a Prosecutor and the Police Detective who investigated him. He was convicted by a jury on three counts of soliciting murder and is awaiting sentencing. He is now a 48 time convicted felon and has never shown even the smallest hint of remorse whatsoever. He will also be standing trial in the near future for the sexual abuse of two juvenile female family members. Also, in late 2009, one of the cases that Monroe was convicted in was overturned on a legal technicality and sent back for re-trial. So it seems that his courtroom affairs will continue on for quite some time.
Is this the kind of criminal that can be rehabilitated? Is this the sort of person that should be granted some kind of leniency and allowed to exist in society? Monroe is not a lone wolf. Stories like his dot the map across the country. These truly dangerous and inalterable criminals cannot exist in society without them trying to find various ways of taking advantage of others to the point of committing serious crimes against them.
Another defendant who received life without parole was Gregory Hermanski (8th District court of Nevada, case # 00-C-167783). Hermanski had previously been convicted of 12 felonies including multiple separate times for armed robbery and bank robbery. Hermanski had served 6 prior prison terms in Florida and in Federal prison prior to being treated as a habitual criminal in Nevada. Hermanski was convicted of Robbery with a Deadly Weapon and Burglary with a Deadly Weapon and was sentenced in 2003.
A presentencing report on Hermanski stated, "Mr. Hermanski has been afforded numerous opportunities to cope with his personal problems. He has been psychologically evaluated on repeated occasions. Counseling and coping mechanisms have been offered to him in virtually every form of therapeutic milieu. However, the defendant has refused to cooperate with any agency that has made an attempt to assist him. As a result, he has compiled an extensive criminal record. A review of that record is reflective of an individual who is a very serious threat to the safety of others."
Is this the sort of individual that our system of jurisprudence should trust to exist in society? Would the justice system bear some responsibility if this person was ever released from prison and someday ended up harming someone? The Police, Prosecutors and Judges are empowered and entrusted by the people of their communities to protect them from these very kinds of predators.
The argument of barbarism often comes up when people discuss life sentences of criminals. I believe that it is a privilege to live in the United States of America. In many countries, these kinds of criminals would have been executed long before they established their prodigious rap sheets. It is not barbaric to separate predators from the prey. I argue that it is barbaric to continue letting the predators feast mercilessly on innocent people.
For those of you who live in jurisdictions that have strong habitual criminal laws, you should be thankful. For those of you that live in jurisdictions without, you should write your lawmakers.
Bradley is currently Co-Authoring a true crime story entitled "Repeat Offender; The true story of how the biggest thief Las Vegas ever knew was brought down".
Check out the website: http://www.repeatoffenderonline.com
or check it out on FaceBook:
And head over to my blog! Lots of great stuff going on there.
Disclaimer: The opinions in this article are not necessarily the official position of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and the author is not representing the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department in any official capacity with the contents of this article.