Tuesday, January 6, 2009

1, 2, 3 ... 109 Strikes and You're Out?

W.C. Fields once said, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.  Then quit.  It's no use being a damn fool about it."  If only Norman Holmes had heeded these words of wisdom, he wouldn't have faced the ire of Cincinnati judge Ted Berry after receiving his 109th misdemeanor conviction.  And yes, you read that correctly!  109 convictions.

At 41 years old, Holmes' adult criminal career is, at most, 23 years long.  Yet, in this time, he has been able to amass 109 convictions, or almost five convictions each and every year (except for leap years when he took it easy and only got popped four times ... do the math, it works).  And while this rate of conviction might not be impressive for, say, a governor of Illinois, it is pretty darn impressive for an indigent man with few political connections (and apparently, even fewer functioning brain cells).  And if you think I'm being harsh in my assessment of Holmes, please keep in mind that, at the time of his latest conviction, he was wanted for ... get this ... stealing vodka, a screwdriver, and an air freshener from a convenience store.  I guess he figured that he might be a habitual thief and even an alcoholic, but he wasn't going to have a musty home in need of repair (thus, the screwdriver and air freshener).

However, even more strange than Holmes' crime sprees has been the Ohio courts reception to them.  While many jurisdictions have moved to a three-strikes paradigm for violent offenders, Ohio seems to be taken a more lenient approach -- the Otis approach.  This approach seems to be modeled after the way in which Sheriff Andy Taylor and Deputy Barney Fife treated Otis Campbell, the town drunk.  In short, they allowed Otis to use the town jail as if it were a hotel.  Whenever Otis needed a place to sleep off his latest drinking binge, he would be brought to the jail and after a good night's sleep, he would be released.  In fact, in several episodes, Otis showed up to the jail on his own volition and stumbled his way into a cell, closing the door behind him and leaving a wake-up time.

Holmes seems to have a similar arrangement with the Hamilton County authorities.  For his 109th offense, Judge Ted Berry "threw the book at him" by imposing a whopping 90-day jail sentence.  Assuming this punishment stands up on Eighth Amendment grounds, Holmes will be free just in time for spring, which will be the perfect time for him to get convicted for shoplifting, say, a wrench, a barbecue grill and, of course, more vodka.   Assuming that he can remain healthy (and the town merchants don't run out of vodka), Holmes may just have a shot at losing more than anyone in Ohio state history.  And given the fact that Ohio is home to the Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati Bengals and Ohio State Buckeyes, that would be quite a feat.

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