How much Time is Enough Time?

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After criticizing reporters for giving exaggerated predictions about possible sentences, I didn't adequately take into account that Jahaad Marshall would be sentenced to the equivalent of “eleventy million years,” or in his case 260 years.

Since Jahaad Marshall is not Methuselah, he will end his life with time to serve. His 17-year-old brother Shabar, who admitted his crimes and pled guilty, received at least 26.5 years earlier today, which leaves a lot of the commenters over at WRAL clamoring for blood.

Some are even calling the sentencing judge “lax.” Whatever one might say about Judge Henry Hight, the adjective “lax” does not come to mind. Others are calling for Shabar's execution, and others are predicting that he'll be paroled and that he'll have, as one WRAL commenter put it, “many more years to rob, rape, and paralyze innocent citizens.”

I get it. Trolling on the internet is nothing new. Sentencing a 17 year old to death from the comfort of your keyboard may be cathartic, but does damn little to help his victim to walk again, or heal a woman he raped.

First, a few facts: Marshall will serve every day of the minimum. North Carolina has no parole. Post-supervision release in this case will be at least 5 years, and come at the end of the active sentence, which means that when Shabar Marshall is released, he will have another 5 years of supervision from the criminal justice system.

Second, it is a fact that incidence of rape and robbery crimes spikes as offenders reach their teenage years, and declines precipitously as they enter their late 30s and early 40s.

While it is completely possible that Shabar Marshall will be charged with low end drug or larceny crimes when he is released from prison, in part owing to the fact that he will come out without much hope for a viable job, it is very unlikely that he will commit new violent crimes in his late 40s. When's the last time you heard about a 48 year old robbing a convenience store?

Third, for a country putatively founded on the New Testament notions of redemption and rebirth, the United States is decidedly Old Testament in its commitment to taking a pound of flesh from the convicted.

This is not to say that Shabar Marshall should not be punished. He should be. Even in Norway's criminal justice system, people are punished for their crimes. The restorative justice practiced in Norway “begins with a concern for victims and how to meet their needs, for repairing the harm as much as possible, both concretely and symbolically.”

In [mass murderer Anders] Breivik['s] trial, this meant giving every victim (survivors as well as the families of those killed) a direct voice. Victims were individually represented by 174 court-appointed lawyers. The court heard 77 autopsy reports, 77 descriptions of how Breivik had killed them, and 77 minute-long biographies “voicing his or her unfulfilled ambitions and dreams.” In an American-style retributive system, the trial is primarily about hearing and evaluating the case against the criminal. Norway does this too, but it also includes this restorative tool of giving space to victims, not as evidence, but to make the trial a forum for those victims to heal and to confront the man who'd harmed them. The trial itself is about more than just proving or disproving guilt, but about exorcising the victims' suffering.

Across the board, the United States practices a kind of punitive justice that now has 1 in 100 of our citizens in jail or prison. Our incarceration rate is the highest in the world at 743 per 100,000. While we have just 5 percent of the world's population, we house 25 percent of the world's prisoners.

The question is not whether people should be punished for their crimes. The question is, how much time is enough time?

 

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Damon Chetson

Damon Chetson is a Board Certified Specialist in State and Federal Criminal Law. He represents people charged with serious and minor offenses in Raleigh, Wake County, and the Eastern District of North Carolina. Call (919) 352-9411.