Mike Anderson and the Politics of Crime and Punishment

The problem with politics is that it involves politicians.  We routinely get politicians when what we need are leaders.  Leadership is not telling people what they want to hear in order to get elected or get attention.  True leadership is wading against the fiery currents of public opinion stirred by fear, ignorance, and the status quo to challenge society to march toward a better way of dealing with an issue.  Although there is always room for differing opinions as to what progress looks like there is one constant. No politician ever wants to be accused of being “soft on crime” so the politics of punishment dictates that it is always politically convenient to allow potentially innocent people to go to jail or allow people to serve unjust sentences in the name of justice.  The story of Mike Anderson is an example of how the politics of punishment routinely turns a blind eye to a just decision when there are unusual circumstances that dictate a different course of action.

Mike Anderson was convicted of armed robbery in 2002.  He was sentenced to 13 years in prison in Missouri, but due to a technical error by the state he was never required to turn himself in or taken into custody by law enforcement.  During the next twelve years he did what every penal system in the country desires: he walked away from crime and led a law abiding, productive life.  He started a business, became a home owner, got married, and started a family. Now he is in prison . . . waiting for some leadership in Missouri.

Yes.  I am a criminal defense attorney so I may not be the most objective person to relay Mr. Anderson’s story.  However, I know political cowardice when I see it.  There is no good reason for Mr. Anderson to be required to spend the next twelve years or so away from his family in a prison where he will pay no taxes, provide no help to the local or national economy, or provide no help to his wife in raising their children.

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Mike Anderson

I am sure the law and order crowd will be quick to yell in the wind that the clerical error in his favor by the state of Missouri does not release him from his debt to society and his jail sentence. No.  It does not, but it should. It should because he is not the same man today that he was when he committed the felony that is now ruining his life and bringing a great deal of sorrow to him and his family.  And by the way, the victim of his crime also thinks he should not have to serve his sentence.

When the state’s criminal JUSTICE system dictates that a person is to be sentenced to time in prison it is for two reasons: either to (1) protect the society by removing a dangerous person from society, and/or (2) to provide an opportunity to change a criminal into a law abiding citizen through rehabilitation.  Mr. Anderson does not fall within either category.  He has already been rehabilitated and has a strong track record and incentives to continue to lead a law abiding life. And his behavior during the past twelve years demonstrates that he is not a danger to the community.  He is instead an asset to his community.  What is the real reason for him to serve a grossly belated sentence?  The politics of punishment.

The governor of Missouri has the power to end this ridiculous ordeal, so does the Attorney General of Missouri.  The governor can commute Mr. Anderson’s sentence and send him back home to his family and his community but he won’t because that would be a political risky move. If the governor or the attorney general let Mr. Anderson serve his entire sentence without regard to the blatant injustice of the situation there is likely to be no political consequences.  Or if the governor left this matter to the long and protracted process of the court system, he can effectively dodge a sticky issue and pass the buck to another branch of government.  However, if the governor showed some leadership and compassion and commuted Mr. Anderson’s sentence and Mr. Anderson went on to commit another crime, like murder or rape or something heinous, then that could cost the governor his job so why do the right thing and risk negative consequences when he can stay silent and take no risks.  Like I said.  When leadership is needed, we routinely get politicians.

If you believe Mr. Anderson should be released from prison please go to the change.org website and sign the petition for his release.