Man’s ‘three strikes’ sentence upheld

The Associated Press
Wednesday February 21, 2001

A California man, sentenced under a “three strikes” law to 25 years to life in prison after stealing an umbrella and two bottles of liquor, lost a Supreme Court appeal Tuesday. 

The court turned down the man’s argument that his sentence amounted to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment. 

Justices David H. Souter and Stephen G. Breyer voted to grant review. Writing for the two, Souter said, “The issue is serious, the state courts have had adequate opportunity to consider it, and the stakes are substantial.” 

Stanley Durden was convicted in Los Angeles County for stealing two bottles of liquor and an umbrella from a supermarket in 1999. Because Durden had several prior convictions, the theft was prosecuted as a felony. 

Under California’s “three strikes” law, Durden was sentenced to 25 years to life based on his four previous convictions for robbery and attempted robbery. 

A California appeals court upheld the sentence, saying he was “a serious career criminal who has demonstrated repeatedly that he has no intention of abiding by the laws of this state.” The California Supreme Court denied review. 

In the appeal acted on Tuesday, Durden’s lawyers said the punishment was “grossly disproportional” to the crime. 

“The offense was minor, petty theft, but the punishment was enormous,” his lawyers said. Durden’s prior offenses were counted twice – first to raise the petty theft to a felony, and then to sentence him under the “three strikes” law, his lawyers said. 

Prosecutors said Durden had a “serious and unending record of violent crime” and “represents a dangerous menace to the people of California.” 


The case is Durden v. California, 00-6479. 


On the Net: For the state court ruling: http://www.courts.net and click on California.