The broken nature of our criminal justice system is exemplified in the case of Jacobia Grimes, a 34-year-old New Orleans man who may face life in prison due to minor shoplifting.
According to the Huffington Post, Grimes shoplifted $31 worth of candy bars from a convenience store in December, but due to his five prior theft convictions, he could face “a sentence of 20 years to life under the habitual-offender law if he’s convicted.”
The possibility of this sentence embodies all the issues that exist within the justice system—it encourages defendants to plead guilty in order to receive a reduced sentence, rather than take a case to trial and face the possibility of receiving a mandatory minimum sentence.
Grimes’s attorney, Michael Kennedy, told the Huffington Post that, “Obviously, if our client stole something, there should be some punishment — but we’re talking about $31 in candy bars. He shouldn’t be facing a mandatory minimum of 20 years. That’s unconscionable.”
Kennedy is absolutely right. The U.S.’s 20-year long attempt to get “tough on crime” has only resulted in mass incarceration and lengthy sentences for misdemeanors and minor infractions.
Even the district judge that tried the case was disturbed by the situation, expressing, “It’s not even funny — 20 years to life for a Snickers bar,” during Grimes’s sentencing.
The Huffington Post notes that the District Attorney’s office has stated it will not be pressing for such a harsh sentence, but the fact that Grimes is capable of serving 20 years to life in prison for something as trivial as shoplifting candy bars speaks volumes about how well our justice system serves the people.
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