Making the punishment fit the crime.

OK, I’m having another one of those moments where something is so insanely stupid to me that my brain is having trouble understanding it so I need someone to explain it to me. Specifically, I need someone to explain why it is that down in Louisiana it appears the legal system thinks that looting booze is a much more severe crime than bribing Federal officials to perpetuate a scam.

Seriously. A judge just gave three people who looted a liquor store during Hurricane Katrina 15 years in prison

They were convicted of attempting to leave the grocery with 27 bottles of liquor and wine, six cases of beer and one case of wine coolers, six days after Katrina made landfall. Little, McGowen and Pearson each testified that they were not looting, but they offered conflicting accounts of matters such as who drove to the store.

But two guys involved in bribes for fraudulent debris removal documents got one year, a $5,000 fine, and two years probation:

Kendrix and Nelson were charged in December with conspiracy to commit bribery of a federal official for allegedly making a deal to falsify debris removal documents after Hurricane Katrina.

….Prosecutors said Kendrix was working as a quality assurance representative for the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers at the Hintonville dumpsite in Perry County, Miss., when he allegedly accepted payments from Nelson, a debris removal subcontractor. Nelson was charged with paying Kendrix multiple bribes to create false load tickets for debris that Nelson never dumped at the Hintonville site.

Steal some booze during the aftermath of the worst natural disaster in decades and you get 15 years in prison, but engage in bribery and fraud and you get a year. What the fuck is wrong with you people? How is this at all justifiable? Has everyone in Louisiana gone fucking nuts?

Links and quotations via Talk Left.

19 thoughts on “Making the punishment fit the crime.

  1. The explanation is found in that one involves the tinsy weeny itty bitty little detail that one crime involves breaking and entering, while the other does not.

    Who knows though.  Ya know, when others are at their most vulnerable, what the fuck, forcible entry into another’s property and then sacking the property, it ain’t no big thang.

  2. Consi: The explanation is found in that one involves the tinsy weeny itty bitty little detail that one crime involves breaking and entering, while the other does not.

    Yeah, okay, I agree coz I’m a capitalist, although if I was a socialist I’d think that ripping off the community would be a far greater crime that ripping off an individual.  smile
    Another aspect is that one crime is a ‘white-collar’ crime and the other a ‘blue-collar’ crime.

  3. Consi, there are other details missing.

    Exactly what were the defendants charged with, what was the maximum penalty on each count, and what were they sentenced to?

  4. Fraud versus B&E.  In some causes no B&E could possibly damage as many lives as certain frauds, like enron.  Not sure how this weighs out, though.

    How about fraud against some Granny’s life savings?  That directly trashes someone’s life.

  5. One would need to look at the laws involved. Sentencing in many cases is dictated by the statutes involved. The legislative bodies of the state will come up with certain guidelines for different crimes.

    Since the guidlines are written at different times, there would be naturally some inequality in how strong the punishments are available for the jurist to hand down.

    This is how, for instance, one can find laws which will make animal abuse carry a stronger sentence than spousal abuse.

    (Of course, mandatory sentencing would be a post of its own.)

    Is is right that these people were given 15 years and the others given one? No.

    An additional thought, of course, is that justice in America depends on money. Look how Limbaugh was given probation for committing several felonies, while people less wealthy were given hard time for the same offense.

    Last thought would be, to quote the Cheshire Cat,“I’m mad. You’re mad. We’re all mad, here.”

  6. It is not missing.  The story correctly notes that the jury found them guilty of looting.  It also notes that three defendants received the maximum sentence for their crime-15 years.

    The statute they were sentenced under:

    Louisiana Looting Law
    LA R.S. 14:62.5

    A. Looting is the intentional entry by a person without authorization into any dwelling or other structure belonging to another and used in whole or in part as a home or place of abode by a person, or any structure belonging to another and used in whole or in part as a place of business, or any vehicle, watercraft, building, plant, establishment, or other structure, movable or immovable, in which normal security of property is not present by virtue of a hurricane, flood, fire, act of God, or force majeure of any kind, or by virtue of a riot, mob, or other human agency, and the obtaining or exerting control over or damaging or removing property of the owner.

    B. Whoever commits the crime of looting shall be fined not more than ten thousand dollars or imprisoned at hard labor for not more than fifteen years, or both.

    Phrase it how you want.  They broke into the store, entered the store, then sacked the store.  Can’t do the time?  Don’t do the crime.

  7. As background, here are a few other grand jury indictments for Katrina fraud:

    CHARLES LYLES, of Brookhaven, Mississippi, is charged in a fourteen count indictment with making three different false statements to FEMA for hurricane relief benefits, and with mail fraud schemes designed to defraud FEMA of hurricane relief benefits as well as hotel accommodations paid for by FEMA. If convicted on all fourteen counts of the indictment, LYLES faces a maximum of 235 years in prison and a $3.5 million fine.

    RICHARD T. ROBERTS, of Jackson, Mississippi, is charged in a six count indictment with making a false statement to FEMA for hurricane relief benefits, and with mail fraud schemes designed to defraud FEMA of hurricane relief benefits as well as hotel accommodations paid for by FEMA. If convicted on all six counts, ROBERTS faces a maximum of 90 years in prison and a $1.5 million fine.

    LATOYA MILLER, of Brookhaven, Mississippi, is charged in a four count indictment with making a false statement to FEMA for hurricane relief benefits and with a mail fraud scheme designed to defraud FEMA of hurricane relief benefits. If convicted on all four counts, MILLER faces a maximum of 50 years in prison and a $1 million fine.

    SANDRA MARTINEZ, of Pearl, Mississippi, is charged in a four count indictment with making a false statement to FEMA for hurricane relief benefits and with a Mail Fraud scheme designed to defraud FEMA of hurricane relief benefits. If convicted on all four counts, MARTINEZ faces a maximum of 50 years in prison and a $1 million fine.

    In the case cited in the orginal post, the amount of money that changed hands was $100 for five false dump tickets and pled guilty to that count.

    That is also an important distinction in the case.  Want to increase your sentence?  Sop up our tax dollars by going through with a jury trial when you are guilty, as the looters did, and you will surely piss the judge off and get more time.

  8. What about extenuating circumstances (or how that would be called in legal terms in this case):  Did they need, or think they needed, the stolen goods for survival?

    I admit I do not know the circumstances, but it certainly looks possible to me. And before someone comes along and says: “Look, they only stole booze, why would they need alcohol for suvival?”, I’ll note that these MAY have been the only bottled (maybe the only) drinks available to them?

    It certainly seems that the GENERAL circumstances would make a less-than maximum sentence look reasonable to me.

  9. Has everyone in Louisiana gone fucking nuts?

    To live in a place where large-scale natural disasters are a yearly occurrence…. Well, you get the idea.

  10. Because in most cases, it’s easier and more satisfying to push around poor people who don’t look like the ruling class.

    After that the members of the ruling class go to their churches and pat each other on the back and tell each other how wonderful they are for locking up all the “bad” people.

    Plus, rich people can afford lawyers.

  11. Plus, rich people can afford lawyers.

    The article notes that all three had counsel, but don’t let the facts get in your way.

  12. There are lawyers, and then there are Lawyers.  I’ve seen some pretty scary stories about the ‘council’ available to people who don’t have wads of cash.  But that enters into the realm of assumptions.  Maybe they had brilliant lawyers, as poor people so often do.  Oh, wait…

  13. Consi, now, now. I have not stated an opinion and I’m asking questions before I do form one.

    First, what were the worst-case penalties that the conspirators and looters faced?

    Second, are the sentences received disproportionate to similar cases?

    Third, is there correlation or even causation due to Katrina, race, or whatnot in either case (as applicable)?

    Fourth, does it feel “right”?

    It may well be that the legal system did perferm impeccably. It could be that the conspirators got off easy. I simply don’t have the time to research this.

    At the end of the day, though, I am more inclined to be lenient with people who looted at a place and time when there was a general breakdown of law and order than with scumbags who tried to defraud the public on occasion of hundreds of thousands others getting it up the ass.

  14. At the end of the day, though, I am more inclined to be lenient with people who looted at a place and time when there was a general breakdown of law and order

    By statutory definition taking stuff from others at a place and time when there was a general breakdown of law and order is exactly what looting is. 

    I shall leave it to others to carry their burden of persuasion.

  15. The article notes that all three had counsel, but don’t let the facts get in your way.

    Okay, rich people can afford BETTER lawyers.  Jeez. 

    Sorry I had to repost, but I just figured out the blockquote thing.

  16. I think the honest answer is:

    Stealing liquor from a liquor store is unimaginitive and was probably perpetrated by people who will never rise above the drunken haze they live their poor slovenly lives in.

    Fraud shows iniative and a desire for LARGE aquisitions of ill gotten gains. People like this will go on to bigger and bigger crimes looting more and more money, they are real go getters. Why wouldn’t we reward that kind of behavior? It’s the American way.

    Ten years from now the liquor store looters will still be sitting in their dump of a home sloshed on Mad Dog while the contractors will be donating large sums of money to the Republican party who will continue to make it easier and easier to steal money from individuals, states, and the Federal government. As Consi points out up top, the REAL crime here was the B&E. If you could steal the booze with contracts and loopholes then it is really no longer a crime. It’s entrepreneurial!

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