Under our system of criminal justice, the punishment must fit the
crime. Individuals should not be executed for burglarizing a house
nor incarcerated for life for committing relatively minor offenses,
even when they commit several of them. This principle, known as
"proportionality," is expressed in the Eighth Amendment to the Bill
"Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed,
nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted."
Many of the "3 Strikes" proposals depart sharply from the
proportionality rule by failing to take into consideration the
gravity of the offense. Pennsylvania's proposed law treats
prostitution and burglary as "strikes" for purposes of imposing a
life sentence without parole. Several California proposals provide
that the first two felonies must be "violent," but that the third
offense can be any felony, even a non-violent crime like petty theft.
Such laws offend our constitutional traditions.
The "3 Strikes" proposals are based on the mistaken belief that
focusing on an offender after the crime has been committed, which
harsh sentencing schemes do, will lead to a reduction in the crime
rate. But if 34 million serious crimes are committed each year in
the U.S., and only 3 million result in arrest, something must be done
to prevent those crimes from happening in the first place.