Originally created 03/07/03

Back-to-back homers

The U.S. Supreme Court this week struck a blow against recidivist criminals by upholding important components of "Megan's Laws" in Connecticut and Alaska and the "three strikes and you're out" law in California.

Two cases involving so-called Megan's Laws - named after 7-year-old Megan Kanka, a New Jersey girl kidnapped, raped and killed in 1994 by a convicted sex criminal who lived in her neighborhood - called on the justices to balance the rights of sex offenders against the interests of public safety.

Public safety won on both counts, as it should have. The two decisions - one 6-3 and the other 9-0 - basically turned back sex offenders' efforts to keep their names, photos and whereabouts off the Internet and, in some cases, out of the sex-offender registry.

The heart of the rulings was nicely summed in a majority opinion written by Justice Anthony Kennedy. "Our system does not treat dissemination of truthful information in furtherance of a legitimate governmental (objective) as punishment," he wrote. "The purpose and principal effect of notification are to inform the public for its own safety, not to humiliate the offender."

Never mind the bleeding-heart reformers crying tears over the cruelties done to violent sexual predators who, incidentally, have one of the highest recidivist rates of any criminals. The main point is that Megan's-Law rulings should gladden the hearts of parents everywhere.

The narrow 5-4 "three strikes" ruling upheld long sentences meted out under the nation's toughest three-time offender law wherein a prison term of 25 years to life was dealt to a small-time thief who shoplifted golf clubs.

The case was from California, but the decision strengthens tough recidivist laws in all states, including Georgia's "two strikes law" - life in prison without parole if convicted a second time of a vicious violent felony.

The legal challenge to "three strikes" was that life prison terms for minor non-violent crimes like shoplifting amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. Writing for the majority, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor noted that it's not unconstitutionally cruel for state legislatures to protect the public from career criminals.

She's absolutely right. If reformers want to lighten tough sentencing laws, they should take their cases to the various state legislatures instead of trying to get the courts to rule that keeping chronic criminals locked up is too much punishment. That's turning the Constitution on its head.

Would prison reformers also argue that long lockups also provide too much public safety? Let's not forget that safety for the public - not mean-spirited punishment for criminals - is what made "three strikes" such a popular anti-crime tool in the first place.

Besides, committing a felony isn't like getting a traffic ticket. You can't do it accidentally or absent-mindedly; you have to go out of your way, purposefully and with forethought. And under the "three strikes" laws, you have to do it repeatedly.

Nor is even the most minor felony harmless. Shoplifting costs American businesses and consumers billions of dollars each year. And consider the case of a Toys "R" Us worker who was chasing a suspected shoplifter this week at a Gwinnett mall: The 30-year-old worker slipped, hit his head on the floor and died.

Felons are a problem. Repeat felons, of all stripes, are a major problem.

Our laws reflect that fact - finally! - and now our highest court has wisely seen fit to allow it.


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