In Oslo Norway on Friday a court found Anders Breivik sane and guilty for killing 77 people last year in Norway's worst peacetime atrocity. Breivik was sentenced to the maximum- 21 years in prison, although the sentence can be extended at a later date if he is found to be a danger to society.
The most unusual aspect of this trial was that prosecutors argued that Breivik was insane, not responsible for his crimes, and should be hospitalized, while his defense attorneys argued (probably at their client's insistence) that he was sane.
Breivik will be incarcerated in isolation in a three room cell, with an exercise area and a laptop computer that does not have access to the internet.
A few thoughts: First: how would this have been handled in the United States? Predictably, the death penalty would have been sought and no prosecutor who wanted to keep their job would ever have argued that the defendant was insane.
Secondly, incarceration would inevitably have been for at least life in prison and the defendant would have been left to rot and go insane in a 10 x 10 cell for 23 hours a day.
Killing 77 people makes such extreme punishment easy to mete out. But perhaps something can be learned from Norway in this case. In the worst imaginable criminal act, their justice system had prosecutors advocating for what they believed to be the truth, not what the public demanded. The sentence handed out will be served by all appearances, in a humane manner. In short, Norway resisted the almost irresistible urge to be dragged down to this killer's brutal mentality and treat him the way he treated others. Norway maintained its dignity in one of its darkest hours.
The length of the sentence in this case is something handed out on a daily basis by US judges to petty drug dealers with lengthy criminal records. In recent times in the US, only former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega was incarcerated in such a humane manner, and that was because international treaties required the United States to treat him better than it treats its own citizens. Of course the United States (federal and state governments) currently incarcerates over 2 million of its citizens, so there isn't much room in overcrowded prisons for humane treatment.
We don't approve of the sentence in Norway. Nobody would argue that 21 years is sufficient punishment for killing 71 people. But if this is how Norway treats its worst offender, how does it treat the rest of its citizens when laws are violated?
ISAAC: 5 AM Friday update:
Things are looking good for South Florida. However, we suggest postponing that trip to Key West this weekend.
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