Exploring Ethical Issues in Criminal Justice: Three-Strikes Law and Habitual Offender Statutes

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1. Ethical Issue: What Would You Do?
You are a prosecutor in a state with a strict three-strikes law. You have been assigned the case of 46-year-old Billy Banks, who has been arrested and charged with burglary. Billy has two previous felony convictions—one for auto theft and a previous burglary conviction—although you know he has committed many other crimes. Billy shoplifted merchandise worth $145 from a local department store. This amount is low enough to charge Billy with a misdemeanor petty theft, but because he admitted to entering the store with the express purpose of shoplifting, he was charged with a burglary, which is defined as “the unlawful entry of a structure to commit a felony or theft.” What are the pros and cons of charging Billy under the three-strikes law? And with what crime would you charge him?
2. What is your opinion of habitual offender statutes that lock people up for life if convicted of a third felony?


  1. Ethical Issue: What Would You Do?

As a prosecutor, the decision to charge Billy Banks under the three-strikes law is a challenging ethical issue. There are pros and cons to charging him under the three-strikes law, which imposes mandatory sentences on repeat offenders.


  • Three-strikes laws are intended to deter repeat offenders and protect society from dangerous criminals.
  • Charging Billy under the three-strikes law would prevent him from committing more crimes and harming innocent people in the future.
  • Charging Billy with a felony may give him a better chance to receive rehabilitation and intervention services that could help him turn his life around.


  • Charging Billy under the three-strikes law could result in an overly harsh punishment that is disproportionate to his crime.
  • Billy’s previous convictions may not necessarily indicate that he is a danger to society and that he cannot be rehabilitated.
  • Charging Billy under the three-strikes law could lead to racial and socioeconomic disparities in sentencing.

Given these pros and cons, I would not charge Billy under the three-strikes law for burglary. Instead, I would charge him with a misdemeanor petty theft, which is a more proportionate punishment for his crime. I would also explore options for rehabilitation and intervention to help him address the underlying issues that led him to commit theft.

  1. What is your opinion of habitual offender statutes that lock people up for life if convicted of a third felony?

Habitual offender statutes that lock people up for life if convicted of a third felony are controversial and raise several ethical and practical issues. On the one hand, these laws are intended to deter repeat offenders and protect society from dangerous criminals. They also serve to ensure that habitual offenders receive appropriate punishment for their crimes.

On the other hand, these laws may result in overly harsh punishments that are disproportionate to the crimes committed. They may also exacerbate existing racial and socioeconomic disparities in the criminal justice system. Additionally, these laws may divert resources away from rehabilitation and reintegration programs that could help offenders turn their lives around.

In my opinion, habitual offender statutes should be used judiciously and only in cases where an offender poses a serious threat to society. The criminal justice system should focus on prevention and rehabilitation, rather than solely on punishment, to address the root causes of criminal behavior. Alternative sentencing options, such as diversion programs, drug courts, and restorative justice, should be explored whenever possible to promote fairness and effectiveness in the criminal justice system.

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