Brief Fact Summary. Defendant, Jackson, robbed a bank after he was released from prison on a work release program. Jackson had just finished serving two conviction sentences for robbery. He was sentenced to life in prison under a statute which provided that anyone with three previous felony convictions for robbery or burglary (or both) who possesses a firearm shall be imprisoned not less than fifteen years without the possibility of parole. Jackson had been previously convicted of four armed bank robberies and one armed robbery.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. The selection of a sentence within the statutory range is free of appellate review.
Issue. Was the imposition of life in prison on Jackson permissible?
Held. Yes. Judge Easterbrook delivered the opinion of the court. Defendant agrees that the statute permitted the imposition of any term of years but insists that it allowed only a determinate numbers of years and therefore did not authorize a life sentence. When parole is forbidden, a judge may use either method to reach the same result.
Jackson was thirty-five years old when he committed the crime. Unless there are major advances in medicine, a long term of imprisonment (e.g., 60 years) and life are the essentially the same sentence. It would be ridiculous to read the statute as authorizing one but not the other. Jackson was a career criminal who committed armed robbery on the day of his release following earlier armed robbery convictions dating back to the early 1970’s. Specific deterrence had failed.
Concurrence. Judge Posner concurring. I agree with the court’s decision, but feel as though the sentence is too extreme. However, the Appellant presents no grounds on which to set aside an excessive sentence.
Even though he committed multiple armed robberies, Jackson did not physically hurt anyone during the course of his crimes. This fact is relevant to decide whether the enormity of his conduct justifies a sentence of life in prison. For example, few murderers or rapists are given such a severe punishment. Criminal careers diminish with age, and it is unlikely Jackson would commit this crime again if he is released thirty years from now at age 65. The sentence might be justified if it were likely to prevent others who are similarly situated from doing the same thing.
Discussion. The statute reflects a judgment that career criminals who continue to possess weapons should be dealt with in a severe manner.