Case Study: Ewing v. California, 538 U.S. 11 (2003)
CASE STUDY: EWING VS. CALIFORNIA 538 U.S (2003)
Case Study: Ewing vs. California 538 U.S. (2003)
The following paper details the case of Ewing vs. California, the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, and the California Three Strikes Law in detail (Ewing vs. California, 2003).
Ewing vs. California: The case
In 2003, while he was out on parole, Gary Ewing was convicted of stealing three high-priced golf clubs. Though his rap sheet had consisted of previous charges as well, dating back to 1984 on grounds of theft, and ending in December 1993, when he was convicted on one count of robbery and three counts of residential burglary and was sentenced to 9 years and eight months in prison. However, he was let out on parole before the end of his term. It was during this time that he stole three high priced golf clubs, and was convicted of a felony grand theft of personal property (CaseBriefs Staff, n.d.).
The judge could have, however, determined the actus reus (the guilty act, that is (Fradella & Neubauer, 2014)) as only a misdemeanour under a Californian Law that allows for certain offences, usually termed “wobblers” to be demoted to minor offenses.
However, upon finding that Ewing had, prior to this conviction, had been convicted for four serious felonies and violence, the prosecution cited the Three Strikes Law, and the trial court refused to treat Ewing’s past misdemeanours as inconsequential. Citing the past charges of burglary, robbery and theft, the court determined the most recent conviction to be the third strike, and sentenced Ewing twenty life years to a lifetime in prison, as the law dictated (Justia Staff, 2002).
After the verdict came out, Ewing claimed that his sentence was disproportionate and that the decision meted out to him violated the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution. However, the judge, Justice O’Connor, determined that such was not the case, citing that although the Eighth Amendment contained a proportionality principle, and was applicable only to non-capital sentences, a strict proportionality between the sentence and the verdict was not required. It was only in extreme cases when the sentence was highly disproportional to the crime committed that Ewing’s claim would be considered valid (4LawSchool Staff, n.d.).
Judge O’Connor also supported the sentence on claims that repeat offenders were a threat to the social structure of society. Ewing’s recent conviction of grand theft alone was a grave charge, with its gravity being heightened by his long rap sheet consisting of burglaries and an armed robbery. The Three Strikes Laws states that State offenders who are not discouraged by more conventional forms of punishment, and continue to engage in criminal activities should be isolated from the general population. Thus, the trial court justified the enhanced punishment by citing matters of public safety (Justia Staff, 2002).
Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution
The Eighth Amendment of the Bill of Rights, along with the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth amendments details criminal proceedings and procedures. It prohibits the state from levying any cruel or unusual punishment on the defendant, or the convict, thus protecting one’s rights as a person (Fradella & Neubauer, 2014).
According to the Eighth Amendment, the court cannot set the bail as excessively high for the release of a defendant; cannot levy any excessive fines for a crime; and cannot met out any cruel or unusual punishment to the defendant. The Amendment thus protects the defendant (the person who is charged with the lawsuit that is) from being on the receiving end of unfair treatment (Fradella & Neubauer, 2014).
In the case of Ewing vs. California, the general consensus was that the former’s punishment was too harsh for a felony. Ewing claimed that his sentence was disproportionate to the nature of his crime. However, it was cited by the court presiding over the case that the amendment considered proportionality in cases of extremely biased judgement.
While the amendment does serve to protect the defending party, it does not excuse repeated offenses, and the committing offenders, who do not seem to be changing under the duress of conventional punishment.
California Three Strikes Law
The California Three Strikes Law is testimony to how law and administration have changed due to public opinion. Since 9/11, the courts of America have been debating over the disadvantages of electronic surveillance and whether terrorists can be held indefinitely without being tried. The public, too, has influenced the decision of the courts in many ways, with demands of being stringent with criminals. It all boils down to the conservation of the societal structure and safety of the public: staying detached from the other forms of government while still remaining an integral part of the society (Fradella & Neubauer, 2014).
Crime was increasing concern in the 1990s, to respond to which various US courts adapting new forms of sentencing. California was one of the first states to adopt the Three Strikes Law, which recognizes recidivism as a legitimate concern of the state and the people for enhanced punishment. If a defendant is found guilty of the same or similar charges repeatedly, with no chances of improvement in behaviour even after multiple convictions, the state reserves the right to levy a serious but proportional punishment on the defendant and isolate him/her from the society on grounds of public safety. In the case Ewing vs. California, the former’s long rap sheet consisting of multiple burglaries and robberies made his grand theft felony more serious than it was (Justia Staff, 2002).
Opinion on Ewing vs. California
Had I been a judge presiding over the case, I would not have considered Ewing’s sentence of twenty-five years to life in prison disproportionate, owing simply to his past misdemeanours of a similar nature.
Ewing was first convicted of stealing in 1984. This was followed by a conviction of felony grand theft auto in 1988. The case was, however, considered a misdemeanour after Ewing served probation and was thus dismissed. Ewing was then convicted of theft again in 1990, battery and theft in 1992, and of burglary in 1993. Things escalated when he was found possessing drugs in February 1993. This was followed by a charge of possessing a firearm and trespassing in September 1993. Two months later, he committed four burglaries and a robbery over a period of five weeks (CaseBriefs Staff, n.d.).
Thus, Ewing’s record reflected a tendency to revert to his older ways as soon as he felt safe enough from the shadow of the system. Additionally, the time window between his crimes had become consistently shorter: the first two crimes were committed four years apart; the next three had a break of two years among them; and the ones after those were all committed within months of each other. The nature of the crimes had also been escalating and posing a threat to the lives and wellbeing of the general population. Furthermore, despite multiple convictions and having already served a term of parole, the defendant violated the rules: this showed a blatant disregard for the law.
Thus, this justifies the sentence delivered by the court. The prime aim of the same was not to make a statement, but to inspire change and order not only in the convict, but also in the system itself, that had been demoting too many cases to minor offenses, thus perpetrating crime by way of negligence.
BIBLIOGRAPHY 4LawSchool Staff. (n.d.). Summary of Ewing v. California. Retrieved September 25, 2015, from 4Law School: http://www.4lawschool.com/case-briefs/ewing-v-california
CaseBriefs Staff. (n.d.). Ewing vs. California. Retrieved September 25, 2015, from www.casebriefs.com: http://www.casebriefs.com/blog/law/criminal-law/criminal-law-keyed-to-dressler/principles-of-punishment/ewing-v-california-3/
Ewing vs. California , 01-6978 (Court of Appeal of California, Second Appellate District March 5, 2003).
Fradella, H. F., & Neubauer, D. W. (2014). America’s Courts and the Criminal Justice System. Wadsworth: Cengage Learning .
Justia Staff. (2002). Ewing vs. California: Certiorari to the Court of Appeal of California, Second Appellate District. Retrieved September 25, 2015, from Justia US Supreme Court: https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/538/11/#annotation