Bad Home Life Gets Chronic Criminal a Light Sentence

“Don’t do the crime, if you can’t do the time,” was the tag line for the 1970’s TV crime show, Baretta. Apparently, times have changed – both culturally and for penal sentencing.

According to a Northwest Indiana Times article, U.S. District Court Judge Philip Simon sentenced Anthony Cruz to a 30-month prison term earlier this month. It was a pretty good deal for Cruz who had pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a semi-auto pistol. Cruz is no stranger to the legal system.

In 2016, Cruz and an accomplice broke into the Wirt Emerson High School and were charged with felony burglary for damage to a window, an art room, and water damage in the band room as a result of pipes being cut. Several band instruments sustained damage.

In 2011, after an ATF investigation, Cruz pleaded guilty in federal court to a single count of a felony indictment for being in possession of a firearm. In all, when Cruz stood before Judge Simon, he has spent about 10 years in jail for over a dozen juvenile and adult violations.

So the question is why low-ball a sentence for someone appearing for his fourth unlawful possession of a weapon charge? Particularly someone who has a rap sheet that easily justifies a 10 year sentence on its own?

Kerry Connor, Cruz’s defense attorney, argued that he had never shot anyone or been convicted of a violent crime. She explained he was raised by a teenage single mother, abused by the mother’s boyfriend, and grew up on the mean streets of Gary. She cited Cruz’s sister was killed a month earlier and said he had acquired the gun since then because it made him feel safer. The U.S. Attorney’s office agreed to a 30-month sentence. Judge Simon supported it based on Cruz’s childhood abuse but is there any proof that such a sentence will have a positive effect on the accused?

There is considerable debate as to the relationship between sentence length and recidivism. A study, conducted by Michael Roach, assistant professor of economics at Middle Tennessee State University, and Max Schanzenbach, Seigle Family Professor of Law at Northwestern University, indicated there isn’t much justification.

According to the study, “Extra prison time does not yield a statistically significant reduction in recidivism for offenders with more significant criminal histories.” The effects of a lighter sentence on a long-time criminal “are at times close to zero.”

Cruz may not have fired a gun thus far but anyone with a long criminal history including four unlawful possession of a firearm charges probably isn’t someone you’d want as a next door neighbor. All the sociological implications notwithstanding there is one guarantee that Cruz will not use a firearm illegally. If the judge had imposed a 10 year sentence, Cruz wouldn’t have had access to one during his 10 years off the street and in the penitentiary.