What Happens When the Punishment Doesn’t Fit the Crime?

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | Jun 01, 2021 | 0 Comments

We've all read procedural dramas or heard cautionary tales of situations where the punishment simply doesn't fit the crime.

When it happens in real life, however, the unfair details can be far more prosaic. Recently, a Pennsylvania man faced this situation when he allegedly shoplifted a cheap snack. After he was caught and charged, he found himself facing years of prison time. The case quickly sparked dissension. The ACLU of Pennsylvania jumped to comment, saying that the 70-year-old's potential sentence was reflective of a larger, decades-in-the-making issue with the Pennsylvania justice system.

Shoplift a Candy Bar, Get Years of Jail Time: One PA Man's Out-Of-Context Experience

In York County, a 70-year-old man allegedly stole a $2.19 candy bar.

Now, thanks to the Pennsylvania criminal justice system, he's facing seven years in prison. The charges against him include third-degree felony retail theft, which carries an associated three to seven years in prison—as well as a fine of up to $15,000. All for a candy bar—which, as an outraged public (including the ACLU) has commented, clearly does not merit jail time.

Nyssa Taylor, a justice policy lawyer with the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said as much. She cited the candy-bar-jail-sentence as “one of the things we have really been pushing the Legislature to change and stop allowing.”

According to Pennsylvania law, prosecutors can charge alleged perpetrators with a felony for shoplifting small items if they have two prior convictions of retail theft. Typically, a retail theft would only merit a misdemeanor or a summary offense. In this case, the third time is far from the charm—it's a felony.

While this might make some sense on paper, the fact that the automatic escalation to felony status happens regardless of the size or type of merchandise involved in the third offense can result in senseless sentencing.

Decades of expansion to the state's criminal code have resulted in increasingly severe sentences. Taylor, the ACLU lawyer, characterizes this alarming trend as a “sort of nonstop train”—also noting that these lengthy sentences for nonviolent crimes are only leading to issues of mass incarceration. In addition, these crimes may unfairly target specific demographics, such as the poor or those suffering from substance abuse.

It's important to remember that even if you're in an unfair situation, yours isn't a hopeless case. Even if you're looking at years of consequences for a tiny infraction, there are likely steps you can take to pursue a more favorable outcome. Joseph D. Lento is ready to help you make that happen.

Are You Wondering What to Do Next With Your Defense?

If you or a loved one is facing an outsized consequence for a minor crime, it's important that you take action to protect your future. It's entirely possible that the rationale for your ramifications doesn't hold water—and that savvy action from an experienced defense lawyer could completely change the circumstances that you face.

For effective legal representation, contact the Lento Law Firm online or call us at 888-535-3686.

About the Author

Joseph D. Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Attorney Joseph D. Lento passionately fights for the futures of his clients in criminal courtrooms in Philadelphia and across Pennsylvania as well as in New Jersey and nationwide. He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and well-being. With unparalleled experience occupying several roles in the criminal justice system outside of being an attorney, Joseph D. Lento can give you valuable behind-the-scenes insight as to what is happening during all phases of the legal process. Joseph D. Lento is licensed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, and is admitted pro hac vice as needed nationwide. In the courtroom and in life, attorney Joseph D. Lento stands up when the bell rings!


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Attorney Joseph D. Lento has more than a decade of experience successfully resolving clients' criminal charges in Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania counties. If you are having any uncertainties about what the future may hold for you or a loved one, contact the Lento Law Firm today! Criminal defense attorney Joseph D. Lento will go above and beyond the needs of any client, and will fight until the final bell rings.

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