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Winter 2004 - Criminal Justice and Injustice

Volume 31 Issue 1  


Civil Rights & Constitution

Life in Prison for Shoplifting: Cruel and Unusual Punishment

According to statistics from the California Department of Corrections, thousands of individuals are serving life sentences under California's three strikes law for nonviolent third strikes—in fact, 360 individuals in California are serving life sentences for shoplifting small amounts of merchandise. California is one of twenty-six states nationally with a three strikes law, but California's is the harshest in that the third strike need not be a serious or violent felony-any felony, even shoplifting, can be the basis for a life sentence.

Human Rights

Felon Disenfranchisement: A Policy Whose Time Has Passed?

For more than a century, all persons convicted of a felony in Alabama lost their voting rights for life, with only a relative handful able to gain pardons. But as a result of legislation signed into law in 2003 by Governor Bob Riley, most individuals who have completed their sentence are now eligible to apply to have their voting rights restored. By enacting this legislation, Alabama joined eight other states that since 1996 have adopted reforms of their disenfranchisement laws. The reforms have enfranchised an estimated half-million potential voters and in many respects represent one of the emerging frontiers of the modern-day civil rights movement.

Rule Of Law

Is Criminal Justice a Casualty of the Bush Administration's "War on Terror"?

Judge Hughes's order vacating a two-decade-old wrongful conviction in United States v. Wilson demonstrates the dangers of overzealous prosecution under the guise of fighting terrorism. In spite of having representation of counsel and complete access to the panoply of constitutional rights afforded criminal defendants, including judicial review, Wilson was otherwise unable to prevent the DOJ's use of deceitful tactics to gain a questionable (but at the time highly popular) conviction.

Civil Rights & Constitution

Human Rights Hero: David Cole

To honor David Cole is not only to recognize the work of an enormously talented and creative lawyer but also to honor the best traditions of American lawyering. At critical junctures in our history, when threats to our national security-real or perceived-have led the government to take repressive measures, some few but highly effective lawyers have stepped forward to protect dissent, individual rights, and the basic principles of equality and due process of law.