The United States Supreme Court has said that the “precept of justice that punishment for crime should be graduated and proportioned to the offense” in explaining when a criminal sentence may be cruel and unusual, thus violating the 8th Amendment. Weems v. United States, where the Court made this statement, was the first time the notion of proportionality was used by the Court to invalidate a criminal sentence. Since, the phrase “the punishment must fit the crime” has been a staple in criminal sentencing. This notion, however, is lost on Texas.
A Texas jury recently convicted Bobby Gene Martin of his 10th drunk driving conviction. His punishment? Two life sentences.
You heard that correctly. Martin will be spending the rest of his life behind bars for a crime in which Martin had no intent to harm anyone and, in fact, no one was injured.
Not to say that facts of Martin’s case were particularly good. Martin had crashed his truck in Montgomery County, Texas. Martin attempted to persuade the tow truck driver to tow the truck and drive him home without calling the police. When law enforcement arrived, Martin was found hiding in a ditch. Martin threatened the arresting officer and it was later determined that his blood alcohol content was 0.217.
But what really caused this and Martin’s previous DUI convictions?
You may not agree with me when I say that alcoholism is a disease. And without going into too much detail about the merits of this claim, I can say that I’m in the majority. Along with me are the World Health Organization, the American Society of Addiction Medicine, the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Public Health Association, the American Hospital Association, the National Association of Social Workers, and the American College of Physicians…to name a few.
Once, twice, or even a few times and it’s probably not the result of a disease. But ten times? It would be difficult to argue that it wasn’t a compulsion.
So what are we really punishing? The product of a disease? Or a violent, heinous criminal?
Yet we’re putting Martin in the same class as some of the worst of the worst. For example, in California, life sentences are only reserved for murder, torture, certain types of aggravated kidnapping, a third violent felony under Three Strikes, and other violent crimes with priors.
Oh and in Texas you can include driving under the influence.