Derrick Ross took the term “cell phone” a bit too literally. Ross, 38, acquired a cell phone and charger while serving time at Coffeild prison in Texas. Due to Texas habitual offender laws, he has received an absurd 60 years for the violation.
Allyson Mitchell, an assistant special prosecutor in Texas, prosecuted Derrick before Judge Deborah Oakes Evans. He was represented by defense counsel Barbara Law, who tried to show that the phone might not have been Derrick’s. Derrick ran from an officer who was suspicious of his behavior and he was seen throwing the phone on to a roof during the flight on March 27, 2007.
It took a jury only 30 minutes to convict. The jury was told about Ross’ prior three felony convictions during the penalty stage. He had a car burglarly conviction in 1989, a car theft conviction in 1990, and an unauthorized use of a motor vehicle in 1993. He was given 25 years in 1993 — already a considerable sentence for such an offense.
Yet, even with these prior sentences, the range for this last offense would have been 25 years to 99 years or life. This is already draconian since you would only normally receive one or two years in most states for such a conviction. (Even in Texas, the sentence is 2 to 10 years).
After another 30 minutes the jury of seven women and five men came back with 60 years, which was added consecutively (not concurrently) to his current 25 year sentence.
After 30 minutes of deliberation the jury assessed his punishment at 60 years in
Mitchell justified the sentence by alleging that he used the telephone for criminal purposes: “I believe that the jury’s verdict will send a message to the TDCJ inmates that still have cell phones and the visitors and unethical officers that provide them cell phones. The message is that the citizens of Anderson County take this charge seriously and are not afraid to send someone to prison for a long time for violating this law.”
Most people have already gotten the message that Texas juries are “not afraid to send someone to prison for a long time for violating this law.” Even with the use of the phone for criminal conspiracies, a 60 year sentence is grotesque. However, the Supreme Court has effectively gutted the limitation on such sentencings under the Eighth Amendment cruel and unusual punishment clause. In Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63 (2003), the Court ruled that it did not violate the Constitution for a California jury to impose a 50 years to life sentence under its three-strikes law for a man convicted of shoplifting nine videotapes from a KMart. These petty theft charges would normally be treated as misdemeanors with a $150 fine, but the court and prosecutor insisted on treating them as a felony to trigger the three-strikes law.
On the same day, the Court upheld the sentence of Gary Ewing who stole three golf clubs worth $399 each from the pro shop of the El Segundo Golf Course in El Segundo, California. Again, the Court in Ewing v. California, 538 U.S. 11 (2003), upheld the 25-to-life sentence under California’s three strikes law in a decision by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.
For the full story, click here.