‘3 strikes’ gets him life in prison for robbery — totally legal, NJ courts say
A man who has been in prison since Bill Clinton's second term will remain in behind bars likely until he dies after losing the latest appeal of his "three-strikes" conviction.
Samuel Ryan, 48, was 25 when a Superior Court judge in Cumberland County sentenced him to life in prison without parole for robbery. It was the third robbery conviction on his record.
In his latest appeal, Ryan argued that the offense from his days as a juvenile should not have counted toward this three strikes.
A two-judge appellate panel earlier this month, however, disagreed, saying that he was sentenced to life while he had been an adult.
The judges also dismissed his argument that the sentence was unconstitutional. The state Supreme Court has upheld the three-strikes law against charges that it is cruel and unusual punishment.
Life in prison without parole is the harshest punishment a judge in New Jersey can impose because the state does not have a death penalty.
The law was passed in 1995 at a time when violent crime was much higher than it has been in recent years. New Jersey's version of the law applies to just murder, rape, aggravated assault, kidnapping and robbery. Other states have similar laws, with California's applying to non-violent offenses.
The three-strikes rule has resulted in robbers going to prison for far longer sentences than defendants convicted of homicides or rapes. Not surprisingly, the statute has been criticized for the same reasons other mandatory-minimum sentencing guidelines are opposed – because the rules deny judges the ability to have discretion on a case-by-case basis.