Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Kennedy Scores With "3 Strikes" Hit

Democrat prosecutor candidate Melina Kennedy appears to have scored a direct hit against her opponent Marion Co. Prosecutor Carl Brizzi (R) on his failure to prosecute accused murderer James Stewart under Indiana's habitual offender statute, commonly referred to as "three strikes and you're out." Kennedy earlier this week claimed that Stewart, who is one of two men charged with the execution-style killing of 7 family members on Hamilton Avenue earlier this summer, would not have been on the street if Brizzi had prosecuted him as a habitual offender for a 2004 arrest for dealing marijuana.

A press release issued today by Kennedy asserts that Brizzi admits that he didn't prosecute Stewart as a habitual offender, and that he never pursues habitual, or “three-strikes,” enhancements for repeat criminals when the underlying charge is a misdemeanor drug charge. In Stewart's case, his prior offenses were a DUI and dealing cocaine, in addition to the marijuana dealing charge. Kennedy responds:

We’ve now learned that these habitual drug charges are willfully and intentionally never filed. Sadly this soft on crime approach puts people like James Stewart back on our streets. How can this city win a war on crime when the prosecutor refuses to use the most powerful weapons. When this prosecutor says he doesn’t file habitual criminal charges when it comes to repeat drug dealers like James Stewart, I think that goes a long way towards explaining rising crime.

Kennedy's statement quotes Brizzi as saying, "We don’t file that because the Department of Correction does not take those individuals.” In fact, as Kennedy points out, Indiana's habitual offender statute does permit the Department of Corrections to accept inmates who have more than 547 days remaining before the person's earliest release date as a result of consecutive midemeanor sentences, in addition to other circumstances, including good cause.

Civil libertarians have been very critical of the 3 strikes and you're out law because of the harsh sentencing that can result in some cases. To illustrate its impact, cases in California were highlighted where individuals charged with shoplifting wound up receiving 25-year prison sentences because of at least 2 prior convictions, leading to a challenge of that state's law. In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of such sentencing schemes in Ewing v. California.

If Kennedy accepts the law as written and becomes prosecutor, similar results will likely happen here in Marion Co. if she applies the habitual offender statute across the board. But for now, she has exposed a significant weakness in Brizzi's argument that he has been doing all that he can to keep dangerous criminals off the street. Will that be enough to overcome her lack of prosecutorial experience? That's tough to say. But I bet this issue makes an effective 30-second TV campaign spot for Kennedy.


Anonymous said...

This is Carl Brizzi's Willie Horton.

Gary R. Welsh said...

There is a risk of anyone using this issue like the way Bush used the Willie Horton issue. Recall that African-American voters found the use of Willie Horton to highlight Dukakis' weekend furlough program, which allowed hardened criminals to go out on the street and commit heinous crimes, as racially motivated. Kennedy could wind up offending her base voters if she is not careful.

Jeff Newman said...

So you're advocating for filling the prisons up with drug dealers? Isn't that trading one problem for another?

The way I read this post, Brizzi chooses not to pursue the 3-strikes enhancements for misdemeanors; presumably he makes no such exceptions for felonies. This seems reasonable to me.

Based on his priors could anything as heinous as what James Stewart did have been predicted? I suppose we don't really have enough information to answer that question, but DUI's and drug offenses don't seem to be the type of busts that would have lead anyone to believe this man was so dangerous.

Gary R. Welsh said...

Jeff said, "So you're advocating for filling the prisons up with drug dealers? Isn't that trading one problem for another?"

That's what Kennedy is advocating, not me. You raise a very valid point Jeff concerning Brizzi's policy. It may be one that he will have trouble defending in the heat of a campaign with so much focus on rising crime.

Anonymous said...

Very thoughtful posts.

Who expects this campaign to be based on logic?

Not me.

Just raw, dirty, expensive politics.

Kennedy wins the first inning. Eigiht more to go. And I've seen Carl work--he can go to the gutter witih the ebst of them.

Anonymous said...

Here is another to check out why the 3 strikes wasn't used on. He was just found guilty for Murder, Felony Murder, 2 counts of Arson, Drug charges and robbery. If the 3 strikes would have been used with him he would have never been out on the streets to commit this crime. But instead the courts released him and let him have an ankle bracelet which he cut off. Check out his criminal record, over 15/20 prior arrest.

Anonymous said...

In conjuntion with the previous post, the name to check on would be Micheal S Keller. Look at this record on him and was released with a 3 strikes against him with a ankle bracelet.

Anonymous said...

To use the 3 strikes against misdemeanors doesn't seem like that would solve the problem. Then we would only have over crowded jails with people that are not a threat to the public. There are plenty of those in jail now that will never be released while we have murders that are doing less time then someone that has a drug problem which is what has led to their incarseration for the rest of their life but has never harmed a soul but did have a drug problem, along with not having a criminal record.