‘Two Strikes’ Criminal Bill Criticized On Guam

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‘Two Strikes’ Criminal Bill Criticized On Guam Bill would see repeat offenders sentenced to life

By Louella Losinio

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Marianas Variety Guam, June 14, 2013) – Bill 107, or the "two strikes and you're out" bill, drew sharp criticism during its public hearing yesterday on Guam as opponents of the measure pointed out its possible economic and social impact once enacted.

Bill 107, introduced by Sen. Brant McCreadie, seeks to introduce a habitual offender statute into current law which sets a mandatory life sentence for those who have been previously convicted of any violent or aggravated felony, not committed on the same occasion and separated by intervening arrests.

If the bill becomes law, the habitual offender statute recommends that sentencing not be suspended, nor shall the offender be eligible for probation or parole.

"We are aware of the logistical and financial burdens that this will place on our government, in particular the Department of Corrections," McCreadie said. However, the senator said he won't let such issues dissuade him from passing legislation that will protect the people.

Richard Dirkx, an attorney with the Public Defender Service Corporation, criticized the bill for its "meat cleaver" approach, which will cast a wide net that "will bring in the small fish."

"Under this bill, a teenager who makes two threatening phone calls to his school will get the same sentence as someone who detonates a bomb at the center court of the Micronesia Mall.... On her second offense, a mother who shoplifts a bottle of baby formula or spanks her child inappropriately will get the same sentence as a home invader armed with a shotgun," he said.

He said "throwing a hundred little fish in jail in the hope that it will prevent one shark from biting somebody" is the wrong answer.

‘Little fish’

In particular, two groups of "little fish" will be swept up by the net, according to Dirkx.

These groups include the mentally ill who, over the course of their lifetime, get a number of repeat offenses.

"We bring them into court and we even have a mental health court handling this now. They plead guilty because they do not get the benefit of any of the mental health statutes. They are put on probation [and] go back to their family. You are going to [imprison them for life] without the possibility of parole," Dirkx said.

Soldiers returning to Guam with post-traumatic stress syndrome, or PTSD, are another group.

"I've seen dozens of these returning soldiers who come to court because of PTSD and they get convicted. Right now, judges can look case-by-case and can do what is appropriate – work with mental health or with the Veterans Administration and design something to help them out. But the victims are an integral part of this," he said.

Atty. Randy Cunliffe concurred with Dirkx's testimony. He said there are a number of ways that people can go to jail for a long time if the bill is passed.

"First-degree criminal sexual conduct is up to life in prison. If a kid is 16 years old and he has sex with a 13-year-old, he can be put to prison for life. The court and the Attorney General’s Office say this is not what the law intended. But if the government can prove their case, then that defendant is going to jail for life," Cunliffe said.

Cunliffe also pointed out the possible economic impact of the bill, saying the courts are backed up and the system is going to cost millions of dollars.

"One of the requirements of legislation is to determine what the financial impact is. And I dare say, no one can tell you what the impact of this would be but it would be in the millions of dollars and it's not going to benefit many of the people," he added.

Bipartisan support

Since the measure has been introduced, it has gained bipartisan support at the Legislature due to the sharp increase in violent and serious crimes, which are committed again and again by persons previously convicted of other serious crimes. Co-sponsoring the bill are Sens. Michael San Nicolas, Dennis Rodriguez Jr., Tina Muña-Barnes, Anthony Ada, and Michael Limtiaco.

Habitual offenders, according to the bill, have shown that rehabilitation for these criminals is not an option. As such, it is in the people’s best interest for habitual offenders to be incarcerated for a significant period of time.

For the penalties to apply, judgment for the aggravated or violent felony that comprises the prior conviction should have been entered within 15 years of the conviction for the current offense. However, time spent in custody or on probation for an offense or while the person is an absconder shall not be excluded from the calculation of the 15 years.

"Our community and the island as a whole cannot afford to let violent offenders continue to reoffend. These criminals have been given multiple chances to rehabilitate. When do we say – as a community, as lawyers, as different branches of the government – that enough is enough," McCreadie said.

Sigh of relief

Corina Fejeran, of Random Women’s Rally, said the "two strikes" bill is definitely a step in the right direction but may not be as effective if all parts of the law work for the benefit of the victim.

"Compared to the other states that have a 'three strikes' ruling, it is comforting to know that two strikes give victims and the community a little sigh of relief but does not entirely make our community safer," she said.

Fejeran also quoted a 2007 report of the Department of Corrections, wherein a psychologist mentioned that 50 percent of convicted criminals fall back to their former state of criminal behavior.

"If the 'two strikes' bill is passed, I still worry about the first strike and the possible plea bargains that take place because ultimately, in the end, it is the judges, juries and attorneys who decide the sanctions of these criminals," Fejeran said.

Stiffer punishments, she added, has to take place for serious crimes. But it should not have to take the occurrence of a second crime to make a difference. She said violent crimes during the first offense is just as serious and should not be taken lightly.

She also asked the senators to go back to the drawing board and discuss the laws that affect the security of the people. "Go back and ask yourself, "If I was a victim, what would I want?’"

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