by Goldy, 06/30/2008, 9:55 AM

Stephen McDonald is serving life in prison without the possibility of parole, for allegedly burning a doormat at a Mount Vernon, WA motel. As the trial appeals judge snidely remarks in the transcript: “Prisoners now have two rights, the right to go to jail and the right to stay there until their term is up.”

Regardless of whether McDonald actually committed the crime (and McDonald effectively argues that he was railroaded), a sentence of life in prison without parole is ridiculous, immoral, and an unjustifiable expense of taxpayer dollars for a minor property crime, regardless of his prior record. But then “Three Strikes and You’re Out” is a popular string of rhetorical bullshit with both the political and media establishments, so good luck Mr. McDonald in finding a politician or journalist to champion your cause.

Noemie has much more at WashBlog.

48 Responses to “Your tax dollars at work”

1. I Got Nuthin' spews:

Exactly how many strikes should Stephen McDonald get? 5? 15? 30?

Three strikes is both preventative as well as punitive. I mean, how difficult is it to not get arrested. Not very. Don’t break the law and you won’t get arrested. It’s worked for me for 44 years. (Queue up the theme song from Baretta.)

2. ArtFart spews:

1 Well, there’s a rather predictable ‘winger response.

I have to admit, though, that after reading the WashBlog piece, in spite of a degree of questionable competence on the part of the authorities, I can’t help but come away with an impression of Mr. McDonald being a less than ideal “poster child” for those who oppose “Three Strikes”.

Personally, I don’t like the law because it would seem to seek a “set-it-and-forget-it” solution to a rather complex set of problems. John Carlson et all promoted it with the promise that it would reduce “violent crime”, and in the time frame of the comparatively prosperous 1990′s, by golly it seemed to be working.

Now, with hard times coming down on us like a freight train, it seems that the accompanying increase in violent crime (witness a shooting at the Pike Place Market and two stabbings in downtown Seattle over the weekend) is happing right on schedule.

3. Lee spews:

@1
Don’t break the law and you won’t get arrested.

So no innocent people have ever been arrested before?

The stupid! It burns!!

4. Troll spews:

You have to be very careful when reading Goldy. What he describes as “burning a doormat” was actually someone’s attempt to burn down a motel.

5. Noemie Maxwell spews:

#1 –

These are the responses I see over and over again ..

1. that the defendant deserves the punishment for breaking the law.

2. that this law prevents crime.

On a metaphysical level, I’m not going to argue the validity of the first point. On a public policy level, it is irrelevant. When we lock up people for life for lesser crimes, we drain scarce public resources from all the things that both prevent and respond to crime. This results in more victims, not fewer. Ideology and fear are not appropriate foundations for public policy. Evidence is.

As for the second point, that the law prevents crime. In WA state, 2 convictions, Robbery 2 and Assault 2, are the most common triggers for life imprisonment under this law. Of 282 people in prison under 3-Strikes, about 200 have 1 or more of these 2 convictions. There is absolutely no argument that a person who commits one of these crimes should face consequences. Life imprisonment is the wrong consequence for many reasons.

At RCW 9.94A.515 there are 15 levels of seriousness of crime. R2 and A2 are at Level 4, bottom quartile, along with influencing the outcome of a sporting event.

This law catches mostly the lower level offenders. Washington Supreme Court Justice Richard B. Sanders noted in testimony on Senate Bill 6120 in 2001 that most people serving under this law are there for “relatively minor offenses’ because “those that commit truly violent crimes are already subject to long prison terms, meaning by the time that they are released from their second lengthy term, their chance for a third repetition is relatively slight, if for no other reason than old age or death in prison.”

6. Noemie Maxwell spews:

#4. The description of the crime comes from a WA Supreme Court decision.

It is an established fact that I verified in the trial transcripts that Mr. McDonald was the one who called 911 to report the fire.

7. Roger Rabbit spews:

The liberal blogosphere has picked up this case and is trying to make it a cause celebre. In response, I would observe that (1) legal cases are highly fact-specific, and (2) it’s not very plausible that Washington’s liberal appellate courts would railroad someone into a life sentence for a minor offense. I urge caution before forming conclusions about this case.

The Washington Supreme Court opinion isn’t very informative about the crime itself because it focuses on MacDonald’s legal representation.

However, it’s clear that MacDonald was prosecuted for more than the burning doormat. He also was convicted of setting a car on fire. His previous 3-strikes convictions were both armed robberies.

At the trial, and on appeal, MacDonald insisted on representing himself. He not only didn’t cooperate with his appointed counsel, but filed bar complaints against them. When questioned by the judge to determine his competency to represent himself, he refused to answer the judge’s questions. He was then sent to Western State Hospital for a competency evaluation, where he refused to answer the doctors’ questions.

It appears that MacDonald had been drinking in a bar with several other people, and they all then went to his motel room and continued with their loud partying. They got into verbal altercations with another guest who complained about the noise. The doormat apparently was set on fire in retaliation. The first degree arson charge was based on the fact this fire was set at an occupied building. Given the defendant’s drunken state and aggressive behavior, it may well be only by the grace of God that the motel didn’t burn down with loss of life. Based on these facts, I’m not prepared to say the offense was only “minor” or that an abuse of justice occurred.

This guy is not only an asshole, he’s unfit to live in society. While I reserve judgment on whether his cumulative offenses rise to the level of throwing the key away, I think I can safely say that no one will miss his presence among us.

I do support the 3-strikes law when properly applied in appropriate cases. There are people who shouldn’t be among us, period. There are people who need to be locked in cages and kept there, period. And that’s no one’s fault except their own. They had a choice about their behavior, and they choose to behave in ways that made them intolerable to the rest of society. Perhaps there are issues with how this law is being applied. Perhaps Mr. MacDonald’s is not an appropriate case for its application. I’m not sure. But I think we need a legal mechanism for permanently removing chronic serious offenders from society, as an alternative to being forced to live with them as neighbors and wait to become victims of their next crime.

8. Noemie Maxwell spews:

Roger Rabbit –

First, a quick fact correction. Robbery 2, by definition, involves no weapons and no injuries.

There are other, less clear-cut, factual problems in your very quick reply here — too quick to have looked in-depth at what is going on with this law which there is good cause to believe is distorting criminal justice in WA.

The moral of this story is not how wonderful or terrible an individual person is. It’s whether our justice system is working. It’s the important question, are we operating on ideology and fear — or on evidence of what works?

You blame Mr. McDonald for representing himself, in the process bypassing the system problem here, a system where mentally ill people get caught up by a law more than the people the law was meant to catch. Initiative 593 promised to lock up “the most violent offenders.” Burning a doormat, whether he did it or not — and the fact that he was the one to call 911 is on the record, verified — is not “the most violent” offense.

Life for 2 robberies and burning a doormat violates the cornerstone of RCW 9.94A.010 – that punishment must be commensurate with the crime and punishments given for similar crimes. It diverts tremendous amounts of public funds from reducing and dealing with crime. These people are held in prison till they are elderly — many years past the time when they will commit crimes.

One of the judges in the appeal court, who says that prisoners have two rights, to be silent and to stay in prison — if this is a reflection of what can happen in Washington state appeal courts, then I don’t have great confidence that justice is always done. That statement indeed appears in the trial transcripts. It is prejudicial on its face.

Why do you say this is a cause celebre in the liberal media? I just posted this today, first time ever….

9. ByeByeGOP spews:

Yep the wingers are opposed to government spending unless it involves blowing something up or putting someone (preferably a minority) in jail. Then there’s no end to the government spending these hypocrites will endorse.

10. Mr. Cynical spews:

Goldy–
Would you let McDonald spend the weekends with you & your daughter??
I propose you put your Liberalism where your ample piehole is and volunteer to babysit McDonald. One of the many problems with New Age Progressive Liberalism is they have no moral compass. It’s all based on “feelings”.
C’mon Goldy…be a true spirit of the feeling movement. Between you & Noemie, McDonald will have a couple more suckers to fleece.

11. Daddy Love spews:

Crime rates correlate to unemployment, not to punishments.

12. Steve spews:

@10 “One of the many problems with New Age Progressive Liberalism is they have no moral compass.”

You’re so silly. Like you America-hating commie-fascists somehow have a “moral compass”.

13. My Goldy Itches spews:

Yeah, the hell with 3 strikes. They should be free to roam the streets stealing cars, burglarizing homes, and selling dope for the remainder of their natural life.

14. Lee spews:

@13
Yeah, the hell with 3 strikes. They should be free to roam the streets stealing cars, burglarizing homes, and selling dope for the remainder of their natural life.

Then you can pay for the prison and incarceration costs. But if you want all of society to pay taxes for this horseshit, you have to show me that it works, not just tell us your diaper is dirty.

15. Steve spews:

@13 The more pressing question is what should be done with treasonous, America-hating, commie-fascist trolls.

16. rhp6033 spews:

It’s pretty easy not to be arrested if you are a white, middle-aged or older person with no mental diseases. The more money you have, the easier it is not to be arrested. Why? Because the police give you the benefit of the doubt.

If you are a minority, speak with an accent, have a mental problem of some sort which attracts attention, or have little money, it is remarkably easy to attract the attention of the police. Once you have their attention, the odds of being arrested go up geometrically, because you are not being given the benefit of the doubt.

To bring up an example from last year, look at how long it took them to prosecute Limbaugh for a crime related to illegal activities to secure controlled narcotics. If Limbaugh had been your average minority with little money, he would have been arrested first, held on a minor charge while the larger charge was being investigated, and then prosecuted to the full hilt on the assumption by the authorities that he is guilty of much more, but this is all they could find at the time. Instead, Limbaugh gets probation, which he breaks within a year by traveling outside the country and is caught coming back into the country with other controlled substances on his possession in the name of someone other than himself. Anybody else would have been immediatly jailed for probation violation, but Limbaugh skated simply by having his doctor call on his behalf.

I spoke with a college football coach who used to have a rule that he would immediatly kick of anyone on his team who was arrested. Once he transferred into a program with a high proportion of minority players, he found he was going to kick off a large number of his team. Looking into it further, he realized that the minority players were being arrested routinely anytime there is a “disturbance”, whereas his white players were routinely given a pass by the police. This became more obvious when both white & minority players from his team would happen to be involved in the same incidents, for example, at a party where a fight broke out. The police would immediatly target the black players as suspects, and merely take the statements of the white players.

Looking at this issue from the comfort of a mostly white upper-middle class suburb leaves a person with an incomplete picture of the situation.

17. I-Burn spews:

@16 Is it because they’re “white, middle-aged or older person with no mental diseases.”? Or because that particular demographic is underrepresented as perpetrators of crime?

18. Noemie Maxwell spews:

Well, based on drug use and arrest and conviction/sentencing statistics, the problem is not with differences in behavior. From a story I wrote earlier:

White people and black people use illegal drugs at about the same rate (US Department of Health and Human Services).Approximately 12% of the U.S. population is black.Therefore, we should expect slightly more than 12% of the drug arrests in the United States to be of black people.But the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report for 2005 shows that 33.9% of the drug arrests in 2005 were of African Americans.This nearly a three-fold disparity widens between arrest and incarceration because arrest is only the first step in a process in which being African American is a disadvantage at every step.Once arrested, black people are 20% more likely to be convicted than whites. Black people also receive longer prison terms.  In 2002, the average prison term of 105 months for blacks was 69% longer than the average of 62 months for whites.  (The Sentencing Project).The collective result of these disparities and others brings us to a place where, today, more than 8% of African American men between the ages of 19 and 25 are in jail.

19. rhp6033 spews:

# 17: Well, I gave you the example of what the white, middle-class football coach discovered. Have sixty people at an off-campus party, ten of whom are black, and a fight breaks out between one white and one black person, and the police are considerably more likely to arrest several of the black people and none of the white ones, even though witness reports are inconsistent. The white players at the party would report that they didn’t think the black players were being treated fairly. Kind of a “throw cuffs on them all, take ‘em all in and let the prosecutors and judges sort ‘em out later” sort of mentality.

The coach was a pretty conservative guy, from the old school, but even he became a convert to the fact that white people and black people were treated differently at every stage of the criminal justice system. His explanation of this, and other examples, led me to change my own way of thinking on this subject.

Add to that the fact that the system puts a lot of effort into having a defendant plead guilty, under threat of “throwing the book at them” if they don’t. They do this for simple expediency sake: there is absolutly NO WAY the system could handle trials for everyone who is arrested. So a person who agrees to plead guilty will routinely be offered a sentence which is light on jail time but heavy on long-term probation and monitoring. If they choose to put the prosecutors through a trial, the prosecutors threaten to get even by pushing for the most serious charges they can imagine, with recommendations for long jail times which would have the added result of sometimes causing the removal of the kids, financial ruin, etc. Sometimes, they even throw in the prospect of prosecuting family members for related offenses. Even if the possibility of conviction is slight, many will end up pleading guilty rather than see their wives or sons or daughters face a trial with the threat of significant jail time.

But once convicted, by plea agreement or otherwise, the chances of further arrests goes up exponitionally. You can be pulled back in by your probation officer if he doesn’t think you are paying off your restitution fast enough, or are otherwise violating any one of the many terms of your parole. If you can find a job, your boss may let you know that you will have to do whatever he tells you to do, at whatever pay, or in whatever conditions, or he will report to your parole officer that you aren’t showing up for work, or that you returned to work after lunch with liquor on your breath. Your co-workers may demand that you participate in activities of questionable nature under threat of them ratting you out to your parole officer. In short, you are a prime target for being harrassed in any number of ways. Now, DOC is using lie detector tests to determine whether a parole is “lying” about where they have been or what they are doing. While such results are not admissable in court, and highly unreliable, they are sufficient cause to haul a person back into jail on suspicion of violating parole, which will usually result in losing a job. And, of course, not being employed is itself a violation of parole.

As I said, it’s a lot more complicated than a lot of us would believe.

20. rhp6033 spews:

That’s not even considering the housing issue. If you don’t have family or friends you can stay with, then it’s getting harder and harder to get decent rental housing. Most landlords demand references, credit, and criminal checks, and obviously being a recent resident of a state facility isn’t going to help that process.

Staying with family or friends might be complicated if any of them have problems of their own, since one of the conditions of parole would be to stay away from those situations.

So a lot of parolees end up homeless, where finding a place to sleep and go to the bathroom can result in an arrest for trespass or public indecency – problems which the average person doesn’t have to deal with.

Of course, if you have enough money or a family who can take you in, this isn’t much of a problem. But if you don’t have money or nearby family who can help, it’s a huge problem.

21. Lee spews:

@17
I-Burn, there is no shortage of evidence that when it comes to drug crimes, there’s a very wide disparity between the likelihood of arrest between whites and blacks, even when the rate of crime is the same between both groups.

22. Noemie Maxwell spews:

rhp6033 – Since I’ve begun talking with people more about criminal justice issues, I’ve been hearing many accounts, not just from black people, that “being black” makes you more likely to stopped, arrested, etc.

A white woman who recently recounted to me the tale of walking with 2 black friends, men, on Sunday morning, holding flowers, on their way to Mother’s Day breakfast — being accused of having just robbed someone, and then having to sit, with no evidence against them, in a police van for 2 hours while they were investigated. Mother’s Day breakfast was over by the time they were released. But they were too upset to eat it, anyway. Or a man who, just last week, on his way into the Social Security office in downtown Seattle, getting called over and detained by police who suspected him of drug dealing. He’s a clean-cut, well-dressed guy — simply was on business — any nefarious behavior quite far from his mind.

I hear over and over from poor people how easy it is to get stopped by the police and arrested.

This stuff never has happened to me. I spend — and have spent — tons of time out doing stuff on the streets. Evidently, it’s much safer for a white woman like me to be in public.

23. rhp6033 spews:

Of course, one of the things that isn’t discussed much is that the three strikes DOES provide an incentive for felons with two convictions to leave the state, rather than take the chance of getting a third strike. If I were a felon with two strikes against me, I would seriously consider doing this, even if I had the best intentions of obeying the law. Why take a chance that somebody will finger me for any variety of reasons, including revenge or saving their own butt?

That doesn’t mean that we have deferred crime, but only that we have transferred the potential problem to another state.

24. I-Burn spews:

@20 Lee, I don’t dispute the disparity. But I would suggest that socialogical and economic factors play a greater role there, than does race.

However, rhp explicitly mentioned “white, middle-aged or older person with no mental diseases.” My comment was directed at the apparent underrepresentation of those folks being arrested. They don’t tend to committ crimes, why single them out for suspicion?

25. rhp6033 spews:

So, I-Burn, if a greater number of people who are nearsighted are BELIEVED by the police to commit crimes, that allows them to arrest near-sighted people in greater proportion?

It’s circular reasoning. Police (the greater majority of whom are white) believe blacks are guilty of more crime than whites, so they arrest and prosecute blacks more often than whites. Then they use those statistics to justify arresting and prosecuting even more blacks – saying there is proof to support the bias.

You assume that the court system will sort out the guilty from the innocent, but in my original post I mentioned why that isn’t a reliable indicator.

Quite frankly, you and I both know that a white teenager from Bellevue is going to be treated with a lot more lattitude by officers than a black teenager on Ranier Ave., without any regard to the evidence.

26. rhp6033 spews:

By the way, the DJIA, after last week’s drop, was due for some profit-taking and re-balancing of portfolios today, the end of the quarter. So the expected up-tick after last week’s dramatic drop was – up 3.5 points.

It may be a long summer, except for those already vested in oil and gold futures.

27. Lee spews:

@23
Lee, I don’t dispute the disparity. But I would suggest that socialogical and economic factors play a greater role there, than does race.

They play a role, but statistics compiled over the years seem to indicate that race is the much bigger factor.

However, rhp explicitly mentioned “white, middle-aged or older person with no mental diseases.” My comment was directed at the apparent underrepresentation of those folks being arrested. They don’t tend to committ crimes, why single them out for suspicion?

No one is talking about singling them out for suspicion. In fact, the entire point of talking about this issue is that its damaging to single out ANY group for suspicion.

Noemie’s anecdote is not uncommon. It’s one of those things that’s universal to the experience of being black in this country. Even ask Puddybud, who has talked about this stuff.

28. Roger Rabbit spews:

@8 “Why do you say this is a cause celebre in the liberal media? I just posted this today, first time ever….”

My word search of Mr. MacDonald’s name produced numerous links to assorted liberal blogs, including Daily Kos.

“You blame Mr. McDonald for representing himself …. ”

I did no such thing, and you completely misinterpreted my comment. I’m not second-guessing the trial court’s determination of whether Mr. MacDonald could represent himself. My point is that by refusing to cooperate with his attorneys, the judge, or the doctors, Mr. MacDonald demonstrated his contempt for the rule of law. A person who won’t submit to society’s rules doesn’t belong in society.

“The moral of this story is not how wonderful or terrible an individual person is. It’s whether our justice system is working.”

I’m addressing in getting a “moral” from this story. You raised the question of whether our justice system is working. I would prefer to see a more focused question about whether the 3-strikes law is working.

However, I will answer the question that was asked. A defendant is entitled to a fair trial, not a perfect trial. Our system can’t deliver a perfect trial. We need it nevertheless. I know many good lawyers and judges who have devoted their professional lives to making our justice system work as well as they can, and their work product is good enough for me. There isn’t a better alternative to the combination of the legal framework we have and the ongoing efforts of dedicated jurists and lawyers to make it function in a just fashion. That’s the best we can do, and I accept it.

There is no place in legal analysis for the concepts of “wonderful” or “terrible.” Our law is not judgmental in that way. The rationale of the 3-strikes law is that certain persistent offenders can never be safely released into society and therefore should be removed from society permanently. The life sentence is prophylactic, not punishment for the particular offense. A 3-strikes law should be judged according to how poorly or well it fulfills this purpose.

If you wish to use Mr. MacDonald as evidence of 3-strikes misused or gone awry, I’m not so sure you picked a good case for making your argument. If you wish to argue the 3-strikes concept itself is flawed, his is not a compelling case with which to make the argument.

Here’s why. The victim in this case was a motel guest disturbed by loud partying next door. When she complained, she was met with “heated words.” We aren’t told what the words were, but we may surmise the revelers were belligerent, and used obscenities and perhaps threats. In this context, setting the doormat afire appears as an act of intimidation design to terrorize the victim. Part of the context is that Mr. MacDonald also was convicted of setting a vehicle on fire, demonstrating his willingness to use this form of violence. In short, he was convicted of using fire against property, and threatening to use fire against a person.

He looks like someone who shouldn’t return to society. I’m throwing that out as a question for debate, not as a conclusion or even as an assertion. The most I will assert at this point is that the argument for locking him away forever seems stronger than you’re willing to acknowledge. It’s at least debatable. It could be a very healthy debate if we stay focused on the philosophical and legal issues, which will require us to eschew value judgments and the temptation to engage in moralizing. This is not about whether Mr. MacDonald is a terrible person, it’s about whether the facts of his case are such that we should allow the law to conclude he will never be a safe member of society and therefore shouldn’t be given another chance.

29. Richard Pope spews:

The actual facts of this case are more alarming than the gloss-over given by Goldy. McDonald set a van on fire in the hotel parking lot — which belonged to the same guests whose front door (or at least doormat) was set on fire. He had two prior convictions — one for robbery with an actual firearm, and the other for robbery with threat of a firearm.

Here are some excerpts from a May 24, 2004 Court of Appeals decision, affirming McDonald’s conviction after a second trial:

At Steven McDonald’s trial for two counts of arson, the State introduced testimony from several witnesses who interacted with McDonald on the night of the fires. The first, cabdriver Dorothy Evans, testified that on the evening of the fires, she drove McDonald to the West Winds Motel in Mount Vernon. She helped him unload his bags and then left. At trial she testified that McDonald had commented about aliens being after him. The motel manager testified that she rented McDonald a room around 9:00 or 9:30 on the evening of the fires. McDonald called her later in the evening to complain that his neighbors in room 119 were fighting. About 3:30 a.m., he rang the night bell because he had locked himself out. Shortly after 5:00 a.m., police and fire responded to a fire on the mat and door of room 119.

Two other cabdrivers, Garold Hackley and Barry Campbell, also testified about driving McDonald in their cabs the evening of the fire. Hackley remembered picking up McDonald at Cascade Pizza about 2:00 a.m. and taking him across the street to his room at the West Winds. He remembered that McDonald was talking to himself in the back seat. Hackley waited while McDonald went inside his room to get money.

Campbell testified that at about 2:15 a.m., he picked up McDonald and drove him to the West Winds Motel. He waited while McDonald went to get his wallet and a white plastic bucket to put gasoline in. McDonald told Campbell that the gasoline was for a friend’s car. Campbell then took McDonald to a gas station where he rented a gas can and purchased gasoline. After stopping at a fast food restaurant, Campbell took McDonald back to the motel. While waiting for McDonald, Campbell saw McDonald pour the gasoline from the can into the bucket. Campbell testified that he got a bad feeling, and left. He remembered that it was about 2:45 a.m. when he left.

Hackley picked up McDonald a second time around 5:00 a.m. He remembered that McDonald was carrying a bucket. In the bucket was a liquid that smelled like gasoline. McDonald told him that the gas was for a friend who needed it to get to the gas station. Hackley drove McDonald back to his motel room. He testified that the bucket recovered from McDonald’s room matched the bucket McDonald carried that night.

Edith Clarke had been staying in room 119 with her husband Douglas and son Joseph. She testified that she first had contact with McDonald around 9:30 that night when he complained about noise coming from her room. At around 5:00 a.m., she woke after hearing McDonald talking to himself about starting a fire. While waking her husband, she heard a plop and saw flames through her window. She immediately went to the door and saw McDonald standing on the other side of the fire smoking a cigarette with a white bucket beside him. She called to her husband to get water to put out the fire. She testified that it took more than two buckets of water to extinguish the flames. When the fire department arrived, they discovered that her son Joseph’s van was also set on fire.

When Sergeant Peter Lindberg of the Mount Vernon Police Department arrived, Edith told him that McDonald had started the fire. Lindberg contacted McDonald in his room, and smelled an odor of petroleum on him. The officer heard running water in the bathroom and asked McDonald why the water was running. McDonald told him he was getting ready to take a shower. Lindberg asked to check the bathroom, and found the faucet on full with water pouring into a square plastic bucket directly under the faucet. McDonald emptied the bucket into the tub and explained that he had been cleaning car parts. Lindberg then arrested McDonald.

Courts should also consider the actual facts of the case.29 Here, McDonald committed first degree arson, a class A felony. This is a most serious criminal offense.30 It is also a crime against a person. McDonald set a fire at the only entrance to a hotel room at 5:00 in the morning, knowing that a family was asleep inside. Clearly, the fire that McDonald set endangered a family. McDonald wrongly focuses on the fact that no one was injured, instead of the likely result of the fire had Edith not awoken in time to stop the fire from spreading. This deliberately set fire stands in marked contrast to the property crime in Fain.

McDonald had previously committed two robberies, one with a firearm and the other using the threat that he had a firearm. The Legislature has categorized both crimes as “most serious offenses.” Based upon this conduct, McDonald’s sentence is consistent with the purposes of the POAA.

http://www.mrsc.org/mc/appellate/current/Slip_Opinions_Part_III/502069MAJ.htm

30. Roger Rabbit spews:

@27 The first sentence of para. 6 should read:

I’m not interested in getting a “moral” from this story.

31. Roger Rabbit spews:

@28 Based on those facts, the crime that sent McDonald away for good amounted to trying to burn 3 people to death. I see nothing here to indicate he intended they would survive.

32. Bax spews:

I’ve said this on threads about three strikes before — if Democrats want to get Republicans elected, amending three strikes is a great way to do it.

33. Lee spews:

@32
This isn’t 1988 anymore. We’ve figured out how much prisons cost and we’re sick of paying to keep people locked up who shouldn’t be there.

34. Mr. Cynical spews:

Lee-
Are you saying McDonald shouldn’t be locked up??

35. Roger Rabbit spews:

I’m tired of paying to lock up people in for nothing more than possession who should be in treatment programs.

36. pu spews:

artfart then have mcdonld live with you asshole.

37. Bax spews:

Lee — career criminals with three serious violent offenses on their record are people who should be in prison for the rest of their life. If you really think this is a winning issue among the general populace, you’re nuts. All it will do is get Republicans elected.

There are thousands and thousands of people who are charged with felony crimes every year. A smaller number are charged with a serious violent offense. Even fewer rack up three convictions for three serious violent offenses. The solution is very simple: don’t commit crimes, and you won’t go to prison.

38. Noemie Maxwell spews:

The facts remain, unaffected by the outpouring of words, above…

In the appeal of this high-stakes case, where there were so many irregularities, Mr. McDonald, on Social Security Disability for mental illness, represented himself.

The public documents I reviewed establish that McDonald was the one who called 911, that the police admitted they destroyed the only evidence that they say physically linked the defendant to the crime, that the harm caused was trivial, that the arson expert who testified later filed an affidavit stating that most of his testimony did not appear to be in the trial transcripts where, by law, they belong, that one of the appeal judges stated on the record that prisoners have “two rights” — to remain silent and to stay in prison.

It is difficult to imagine that being poor and mentally ill were not substantive disadvantages to Mr. McDonald. It is unlikely that, with the same facts, a person represented by an experienced and adequately-compensated attorney would now be in prison for life. It would be preferable for justice to not depend so heavily on the income and health of the defendant.

But this is what we get with our state’s 3-Strikes law. Drug addicts, mentally ill, poor people — in prison for life, way beyond the crime committing years — Millions drained from real crime prevention. It’s a tragedy

39. clarkisagoofball spews:

Noemie–
Bleeding heart b*tch.
You take the responsibility for sick criminals like this prick.
Are you willing to step up?
Or are you going to continue to pour out your heart for him??
What about his victims rights Noemie??
You seem uncapable of acknowledging the need for victims to see justice served…so they can have closure for felonies committed against them by McDonald.

40. Noemie Maxwell spews:

Mr/Ms. Clarkis; You demonstrate beautifully here, by calling me “bitch” the anger and recklessness, dare I say rage, that I understand to be at the foundation of why some people are not looking at the evidence on what protects public safety but remain fixated on their emotional responses.

The problem with this is that there are real-world consequences for these policies. Emotional responses are important to pay attention to, but not a sufficient basis for public policy.

The consequences of a policy that drains millions of dollars from reducing crime into warehousing people past their crime-committing years, impact not only defendants, but everyone — old and young, rich and poor, so on.

41. Lee spews:

@34
Not in jail. If he’s mentally ill, he should be locked up in an institution, which is actually more cost effective for taxpayers.

42. Bax spews:

It is unlikely that, with the same facts, a person represented by an experienced and adequately-compensated attorney would now be in prison for life.

You have no way of knowing that the above is true. It is just as likely that a jury would’ve convicted this guy if he had the best defense attorney in the world.

A defendant has an absolute right to represent himself. That’s what the defendant did in this case. Might he have been better off with an attorney? Possibly. But that was his decision. He probably made a bad decision.

It would be preferable for justice to not depend so heavily on the income and health of the defendant.

What did his mental health have to do with anything? He was competent and he chose to represent himself. He had an attorney who he fired. You have no idea what the skill level of that attorney was. Essentially, he made what in retrospect were probably some bad decisions, and you now want to blame somebody else for those bad decisions. Well, they were his decisions, and he has nobody to blame but himself for them.

But this is what we get with our state’s 3-Strikes law. Drug addicts, mentally ill, poor people — in prison for life, way beyond the crime committing years — Millions drained from real crime prevention. It’s a tragedy

Drug addicts? Drug crimes are not serious violent offenses, and a person can commit a million drug crimes and not go to prison for life. You are being dishonest by suggesting otherwise.

43. Bax spews:

In WA state, 2 convictions, Robbery 2 and Assault 2, are the most common triggers for life imprisonment under this law. Of 282 people in prison under 3-Strikes, about 200 have 1 or more of these 2 convictions. There is absolutely no argument that a person who commits one of these crimes should face consequences. Life imprisonment is the wrong consequence for many reasons.

Hey Noemie, do me a favor. Go read the following link:

http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/54293_crash12.shtml

Do you feel comfortable telling Russell Whitaker’s family that Bruce Smith shouldn’t have been sentenced to life in prison when he was convicted of Assault in the 2nd degree as his third strike?

44. Noemie Maxwell spews:

That is a heartbreaking story. It illustrates precisely why 3-Strikes does not work.

Bruce Smith was released on a technicality. 3-Strikes couldn’t fix that. It can’t fix that.

Smith had a previous attempted rape, an assault with a firearm, and an assault with a deadly weapon. These are convictions of a very different sort than Robbery 2, a crime involving no weapons and injuries — and, yes, even an arson 1 when the defendant was the one who called 911 resulting in a burned doormat.

Of 282 people that the Sentencing Guidelines Commission has on its list of 3-Strike offenders, approximately 200 have 1 or more convictions for assault 2 or robbery 2. Of 16 levels of crime in Washington under RCW 9.94A.515, Assault 2 and Robbery 2 are at level 4, bottom quartile .. along with influencing the outcome of a sporting event.

3-Strikes is catching many less serious offenders. It takes the “judgment”, the discretion, away from judges who would otherwise be able to make the sentence match the public safety risk.

Washington Supreme Court Justice Richard Sanders noted in testimony on Senate Bill 6120 in 2001 that most people serving under this law are there for “relatively minor offenses’ because “those that commit truly violent crimes are already subject to long prison terms, meaning by the time that they are released from their second lengthy term, their chance for a third repetition is relatively slight, if for no other reason than old age or death in prison.”

45. Bax spews:

That is a heartbreaking story. It illustrates precisely why 3-Strikes does not work.

Huh? You’re saying that many people who have gone to prison for life have done so because some of their convictions were for Assault 2. And you’re saying that these people don’t belong in prison for life.

A guy got killed because a career criminal’s conviction for what should’ve been his third strike got wiped out. It’s a different means to an end, but it’s the same result you’re advocating for. How does this case show that 3 strikes doesn’t work? It would’ve saved a life. Isn’t that worth it?

Bruce Smith was released on a technicality. 3-Strikes couldn’t fix that. It can’t fix that.

Your position is that a guy like Bruce Smith should not have been sent to prison for life when one of his convictions was for Assault 2. Assume that he wasn’t released because his conviction was overturned. Assume that he was instead released because Assault 2 wasn’t his third strike, as you are advocating. You’re the one that thinks guys like him should not be sent to prison for life. How do you justify that? How would you justify it to Russell Whitaker’s family?

46. Noemie Maxwell spews:

@45

This case illustrates precisely why 3-Strikes does not work.

With 3-Strikes in place — even when a person was convicted under 3-Strikes, we still could not prevent these horrible crimes.

Why?

1.) People are capable of great violence. It’s in our nature. 2.) No laws can stop all violence.

Human violence is a real problem and we will never “solve” it. We can only try to reduce its root causes and then best manage it once it happens. The level of violence in societies varies according to many factors. The public policy and resource allocation decisions we make affect this level of violence. I maintain, and I am not alone, that 3-Strikes is a wasteful use of resources and an ineffective public policy for reducing violence.

Laws like 3-Strikes give people the illusion that there is a “cure” for human violence. That is a dangerous distraction. We know, increasingly, what it takes to reduce crime. As a society, we’ve made great headway in this direction. But policymakers find it difficult to get funding for and permission to implement what they know works because the public opposes it. Crime now pays for politicians who want to get re-elected. Public policy, which should be driven by experience and evidence is, in large part, being driven by rhetoric.

Former Washington State Department of Corrections Secretary Chase Riveland said: “Our three-strikes law passed by about 70 percent, so it is very popular… But it’s a placebo that somehow makes citizens think they are safer when they are not, and it keeps them from dealing with the issues of crime and violence in responsible ways.” (Three Strikes Laws Proving More Show Than Go, McMurry, Kelly. Trial. Washington: Jan 1997. Vol. 33, Iss. 1; pg. 12.)

Here in Washington State we’ve made very sound sentencing choices. Our crime rate has dropped since the early 1990s along with that of the rest of the country. But our incarceration rate, which has tripled in the last 3 decades, has nonetheless risen at about half the rate of the rest of the country. We are getting the same crime-reduction results for less money and less incarceration.

This is due to very smart sentencing decisions which have resulted in locking up fewer of the people who are high-risk for committing crimes — and more who are high risk. Thus, we save tremendous amounts of $ that can then be used for education, health, crime-fighting, etc.

3-Strikes, passed by ballot initiative, goes against those sound sentencing choices. We need to have some courage to look past the rhetoric and our own fears — and see what is really going to protect the children in our communities.

47. Bax spews:

With 3-Strikes in place — even when a person was convicted under 3-Strikes, we still could not prevent these horrible crimes.

So what you’re saying is, we should have no laws against any violent crimes. We send murderers to prison, and that hasn’t stopped people from killing each other. So I guess what you’re advocating when you take your argument to its logical conclusion is no criminal laws at all. Right?

In the end, this argument we’re having is a complete waste of time. There’s no way in hell any sane Democratic legislature is going to touch three strikes with a ten foot pole, because they know that it’ll quickly cause more Republicans to get elected.

48. Noemie Maxwell spews:

Balance in everything, Mr. Bax, balance. Nuance, ya know.

What I’m saying is smart sentencing works better to reduce crime, reduce the number of crime victims, reduce wasted public resources.

Taking your logical conclusion to its logical conclusion — we should lock up everyone, right?

Somewhere we might meet in the middle.