UNITED STATES: 16 years for pinching a chocolate

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UNITED STATES: 16 years for pinching a chocolate

According to an April 5 report on ABC radio, mandatory sentencing laws in the US state of Texas resulted in a man being jailed for 16 years for stealing a Snickers chocolate bar.

Listeners to the AM program heard that 29-year-old Kenneth Payne, a black man, was sentenced to the harsh jail term by a jury in the town of Tyler after his third stealing offence. Under Texan law, Payne could not have been jailed for less than two years. The governor of Texas is Republican presidential front-runner George W. Bush.

Payne was a tried as "habitual offender". His earlier two crimes were minor thefts, included the theft of a bag of cookies. Under mandatory sentencing laws in Texas, a third offence becomes a felony that attracts a two to 20-year sentence. The prosecutor asked for a 16-year sentence.

After the sentence, the prosecutor joked that the sentence was not too severe because the chocolate bar was a "king size" Snickers. "If it had have been a Milky Way, we probably wouldn't have even tried him on it!", she quipped.

Mark Potek from the Southern Poverty Law Centre said that race determines who goes to jail in the US and for how long. "I personally know of a woman who was sentenced to life for three shoplifting offences. This was a woman who had a crack cocaine habit and who used to shoplift dresses to support her habit.

"It seems outrageous and it is the problem with mandatory sentencing guidelines ... You get someone who certainly needs to be straightened out, and probably needs to serve some time in prison, but who winds up going to prison for life while there are people serving six, seven or eight years for murder. That's common across the United States."