30 January 2013

Economic Status


The Iowa Court of Appeals in a recent decision, State v. Dunn, No. 2-847/12-0417, filed 12 December 2012, stated very clearly that a sentencing court may not use economic status for purposes of sentencing as violative of the 14th Amendment. The Court did say, however, that a sentencing court may use a defendant's job history. The District Court in this case mentioned at the sentencing, among other statements, that the defendant was receiving food stamps. I have a difficult time disentangling the two. A person's job history is the surest method to determine that persons economic status. To comment upon the use of food stamps by a defendant does not appear to be nearly so dispositive of a person's economic status as a job history. Working at McDonald's or Walmart means you are poor. This is a certainty. Working at a kiost selling cell phone covers is a certification of indigency. One sees very few not-poor people in jail or prison. An occasional hedge fund manager being sentenced to prison is not indicative of the population of our jails and prisons. I have no statistical studies to corroborate the opinion that 98% of our prison population was poor by anyones standards when they entered the prison gate, but it would take such studies to convince me otherwise. It is probably accurate to state that poor people, on an average, commit more crimes than those who are not poor, but the not-so-poor don't get caught as often. The not-so-poor have the ability to insulate themselves from the police. They commit their crimes behind closed doors and know better than to call the police if an issue arises. The not-so-poor know better than to call the police over a domestic squabble; nor do they have near neighbors who can hear the ruckus and call the police because of the disturbance. The not-so-poor do not engage in saloon fights and if there were to be fisticuffs at the club, the cops are certainly not notified. When they say that the poor are victims of crime, those who say it do not realize how true their statement is. When a family member is arrested, the entire family is penalized: rent is not paid, pay checks are not seen, one parent families are created instantly. The Court of Appeals is correct to say that receiving food stamps should not be a sentencing factor, but further inquiry should be made as to what is and isn't a proper inquiry at sentencing.

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