May, 2003: Justice, Three Strikes Style
From Behind the Wire by Richard J. Lester
Recently a story appeared in the nation’s leading newspaper, hidden so well one would believe it insignificant. But the ruling by the Supreme Court it discussed was anything but insignificant. The ruling was a disaster for thousands of Californians, relatives, and friends.
California’s Three Strikes law was overturned by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. “It’s barbaric,” one judge was overheard commenting to a visitor of the court.
I am told that 80 percent of California Three Strikers are doing time for drug offenses, certainly not the type of offense for which the Three Strikes law was put on the books.
As the newspaper story revealed, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the Circuit in a pair of 5-4 rulings. Seven members of the court adhere to the principle that a sentence for a non-capital offense violates the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution (ban on cruel and unusual punishment) if it is grossly disproportionate to the gravity of the offense. However, a divided majority holds that imposing a lengthy prison term for a crime committed by an offender with a record of criminal offenses – not necessarily violent – does not violate that principle.
Here is one Three Strikes incident that reflects today’s barbaric law.
Darrell Dewbre is serving a 54 year sentence for what could be considered at most a misdeanor.
Darrell does have a criminal history. He has an extensive record as a drug user, though not as a conspirator or distributor.
One night, high on drugs and alcohol, he returned home to the duplex he shared with his brother. The front door was locked and he had misplaced his keys, so he went to the rear of the building, broke a window and entered the premises. Unfortunately, the premises he entered were his neighbor’s and not his. Nothing was stolen, and no one except Darrell was hurt. Convicted of break and entry, Darrell was sentenced to four years in a California State prison. That was his first offense, recorded as a violent crime.
His second offense: while visiting a friend he drove into the driveway and was confused by armed ninjas charging at his vehicle from all sides. He backed his car out of the driveway and was shot at, as was his girlfriend passenger. The vehicle crashed into a telephone pole across the street. Darrell was charged with nine violations of the law. This was his second violent crime.
On Februay 8, 1997, Darrell was stopped by the Riverside police in California. Witnesses observed that the police officer took 15 minutes to exit his vehicle before he approached Darrell’s. At that moment Darrell, deciding that he had been mistakenly pulled over and had not been officially stopped, started his engine and drove on at about 30 m.p.h. – not the speed at which someone attempting to escape would have proceeded. He had just turned a corner when the police cruiser ran him down with lights and sirens blaring, in a chase which lasted all of 90 seconds.
Neighborhood residents, alarmed at the flashing lights and sirens, came out to see what was happening, and observed as Darrell was pulled from his car and beaten to the point where he had to be hospitalized for injuries to head and trunk. Residents, incensed at the brutality of the unnecessary police action, offered to testify on Darrell’s behalf.
Just prior to the stop, Darrell had driven with two friends in the car. One of these had left behind a pouch containing a trace amount of what was determined to be methamphetamine – literally a trace, not enough to generate a high. The passenger, after being deposed by the prosecutor, testified that the methamphetamine trace was his, not Darrell’s. Darrell’s court-appointed attorney told him he did not know how to mount a defense. Darrell asked that he be replaced as counsel, a motion the court denied. At trial, no witness on Darrell’s behalf was called. Darrell was convicted, the three strikes provision was invoked, and sentence to 54 years in state prison was passed.
Should you wish to correspond with Darrell, his address is
Darrell Dewbre C-58719-AZ-226