I realized the other day that the last day of August marked 400 days of incarceration for Texas Magnum. 400 days out of a maximum of 1460 that could be spent as a prisoner in Texas.
Magnum is hopeful he will be released well before the maximum sentence date, and at this point, it is likely that he will be. He has committed to himself to make the most of his time of incarceration and has been actively working on improving himself mentally, spiritually and physically. He feels good, is full of positive energy, and is seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. Lately his days are very long. Up early with prayer, meditation, or yoga as a start to his day. Then 5 hours of rehabilitation classes, followed by 8 hours of work in the prison kitchen as a cook. After work there is some time in the rec yard for exercise and fitness. Writing for this blog has been curtailed and letters to family and friends are in short supply. But we recognize this as a good thing, keeping his mind and body busy is making the days go by much faster now for Magnum, and we all are starting to look forward to the day he will walk out of the doors in Huntsville.
400 days locked up is a lot of days, but it’s good to keep in mind that some people have a much longer sentence, and will count 1000’s of days in prison, or even a lifetime. It’s hard to fathom. Some folks are locked up and innocent, even harder to imagine!
And, because of laws like the Felony Murder Rule in California, some folks are locked up for Life Without Parole for Murder, in cases where they absolutely did not commit the crime of murder that they are charged and found guilty of. If you want to know more about this law and it’s repercussions, take a look at this 60 Minutes’ report. 60 Minutes report on the Felony Murder Rule in California
This is how the law works: If 2 or more persons are involved in a felony, say robbery, and one of them commits a murder while in the act of that felony, then all the parties involved are guilty of murder, regardless if the others took part, were aware, or in any way involved with the murder. This makes sense on the surface, because it’s easy to rationalize that if a group of folks plan a robbery for instance, they should be fully aware that things can go wrong, and an innocent person could be killed. Therefore, they should be held culpable if that does indeed happen.
The law was designed to be a harsh warning to gang members and a deterrent to crime, but in certain cases justice fails and young lives are ruined because of it. Under the Felony Murder Rule, a reasonable defense is almost impossible, even when there MAY BE very legitimate defenses and unusual mitigating circumstances. The judge is bound to apply a sentence of Life Without Parole.
Because of this rule, many times in California, when a felony occurs that results in a death, those accused of taking part of the felony, but not the actual murder, end up facing Life in prison without parole, at the young age of 17, 18, or 19 years old, basically for a mistake in judgement and being at the wrong place at the wrong time. An example would be a typical fight that gets out of hand. Things escalate and someone of the group, unbeknown to the rest, is carrying a knife. He uses it, and someone is killed. ALL the participants in that fight are facing Life Without Parole if found guilty, under the Felony Murder Rule.
Should young adult men get in fights? No, of course not. Do young adult men get in fights? Yes, of course they do. Fights happen every day, for stupid reasons and for perceived real reasons. Fights happen in bars and in parking lots, and fights happen in school yards and in backyards. Fights happen when alcohol is involved, when sports are involved, when petty crimes and jealousies are involved… the list if why fights happen is a mile long. Fights have happened since the beginnings of civilization and will continue to happen.
As a civilized society, we council the young not to fight. And, as has always happened, it usually takes a little maturing to realize the foolishness of resorting to physical violence. And certainly there needs to be a punishment when a fight ends in death. But is it rational that all the people present should spend the rest of their days in prison? Are they criminals that cannot be rehabilitated and contribute to society? Does the simple fact that they were THERE make them culpable to such a degree that they will pay for that with their entire life spent behind bars?
This is just one example of how the Felony Murder Rule could be applied. There are numerous cases on the books, and many have had questionable end results on the lives of those involved. Unfortunately for many, life and what happens in it is not usually simply black and white, there can be circumstances, situations, reasons, motivations, causes, excuses – in short, defenses – yet none of these matter or count under this rule.
Questions of how to properly dole out justice are very difficult to answer. The victim’s families may feel that everyone involved SHOULD lose their freedoms forever, just as their loved one has lost their life. That is an understandable feeling. But is it the right answer? As the family member of an incarcerated loved one, my view of our current justice system has changed. I have learned so much throughout this journey that what I once believed was fair is not necessarily the case any more. I am sure if I was the family member of a murdered victim or anyone else impacted by violent crime, my view would change because of that as well.
What are your thoughts on the Felony Murder Rule? Does it’s value outweigh it’s flaws? Is it an effective or fair law? Remember, step up, speak out, make a difference.
~ The Editor