United States v. Jackson

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit, 1987.

835 F.2d 1195.

Dressler, p. 55-58


Facts: Half an hour after getting out of jail for bank robbery, the defendant robbed another bank.  He was sentenced to life without parole under a statute forbidding career criminals from possessing firearms.


Issues: Under the statute, can Jackson be sentenced to life in prison?  What punishment should Jackson receive?


Rule: The statute does not state a maximum penalty, but it does forbid release on parole.


Analysis: The court disposes of the issue of the appeal quickly.  Precedent states that in the absence of a maximum term of years, the court can either impose a ridiculous sentence, like 500 years, or can simply go with life.  Any sentence that is selected under the statute is permissible and cannot be reviewed by the appeals court.


What is interesting in this case, however, are the dicta of Easterbrook and Posner.


Easterbrook suggests that the sentence imposed by the trial court is not only permissible but just on the basis of general deterrence and incapacitation.


Posner concurs, but feels that the sentence was too harsh.  He reasons that given the hard economic facts of bank robbery, it is highly unlikely that a sentence of life in prison will have any greater deterrent effect than a sentence of twenty years in prison.  He suggests the latter sentence will be adequate for the purposes of specific deterrence because evidence shows old people don’t commit as many crimes.


Conclusion: The court upheld the sentence of the trial court.


Notes and Questions


1.     Jackson was a bad dude!

2.     I buy into Posner’s argument for the shorter sentence, but (without empirical evidence) I would guess that advancements in medicine and cultural changes actually make it more likely a 55-year-old would continue to be an active criminal.  I would go for a 30 or 35 year sentence and leave the defendant at retirement age when he gets out.

3.     Sentencing has been taken out of judge’s hands, more or less.  Is this really desirable?  Couldn’t this lead to cases of injustice just as great as the ones legislators were trying to eliminate by tying judges’ hands?

4.     Shaming may be a cheaper way for society to impose the same cost on a criminal as imprisonment.  I think it should certainly be considered.


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