Weather Forecast


Viewpoint: Life sentences shouldn’t be off the table

By Lance Johnson

There is a great deal of discussion lately, both in the media and in the courtroom, about the Minnesota sex offender program. Some claim that in practice this works out to be a life sentence because some prisoners can’t meet the state’s discharge standards, and that the punishment, therefore, doesn’t fit the crime. 

The United States Supreme Court has, over and over again, recognized that it is proper to consider, not only whether the punishment fits the crime, but also whether the punishment fits the criminal. For example, many states have “three strikes laws.” Under these laws, a sentence of life imprisonment after conviction of a theft of $150 in videotapes is appropriate after considering the offender’s prior convictions (Lockyer v. Andrado—2003) or after a conviction of fraudulent use of a credit card to obtain $80 worth of goods or services (Rummel v. Estell—1980).

In the sex offender cases, we hear about a defendant who rapes a 17-year-old girl at knife point days after being released from prison for an earlier sex crime. We also hear of a defendant who molested 20 to 30 children. Sentencing to the program doesn’t automatically mean they will be confined for life, though many of us think they should be. It means they will be evaluated by professionals who will try to protect the public by determining whether the convicted criminal still exhibits the tendencies that led to the offense.

The sex offender program should also consider (and probably does consider) the trauma inflicted upon the victim of these horrendous crimes. Many men (and many male judges) do not appreciate the life-time impact a young woman feels whose body has been violated by rape, especially one who has been threatened with a knife. The same reasoning applies to children who have been molested in any way. These cases cry out for society to consider the crime, and also to consider the criminal. If he still possesses animalistic sexual impulses, it is wrong to free him to continue to inflict himself upon society.

These sex offenders deserve the same life sentences they gave to their victims.

Johnson is a Woodbury resident