A California man sentenced to at least 25 years in prison without parole after he stole a $199 video recorder was unfairly subject to cruel and unusual punishment, a U.S. appeals court ruled Monday.
Isaac Ramirez was convicted of stealing a VCR from Sears in 1996, a crime that usually brings up to six months in prison. San Bernardino County prosecutors argued that his two prior shoplifting offenses in 1991 counted as “strikes” under California’s 1994 Three Strikes law that imposes harsher sentence for repeat criminals.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said the original trial court and a subsequent appeals court violated the U.S. Constitution’s ban against cruel and unusual punishment.
“The sentence imposed upon Ramirez for his three shoplifting offenses is more severe than the sentence he would have faced had any one of his three crimes been murder, manslaughter or rape,” Judge Kim Wardlaw wrote.
“We hold that this is an ‘exceedingly rare’ case in which the sentence imposed is grossly disproportionate to the crimes committed, in violation of the Eighth Amendment.”
In affirming the judgment of a district court — over California Attorney General Bill Lockyer’s objection — the court said that Ramirez can remain free. He was released from prison in 2002 under parole supervision after serving nearly six years.