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Flaw in the Law

May 28, 1987

Without question, Lawrence Singleton is a bad man who should still be in prison. He raped a 15-year-old girl, then cut off her forearms with an ax and left her for dead. But she lived. Singleton was convicted of attempted murder, was sentenced to 14 years in prison (the maximum under the law at the time) and, with time off for good behavior, was paroled after serving eight years. (The Legislature has properly increased the maximum sentence for attempted murder to life, with possibility of parole.)

Singleton is out fair and square. But, understandably, no community in the state wants him. The outcry from concerned citizens in several places--including San Francisco--kept Singleton from settling there. He is now roaming the state under the auspices of the Department of Corrections.

But if this keep up, the consequences could be disastrous. If local communities can prevent a paroled convict from living there, how many paroled convicts will be able to find a place to live? The state will be unable to place Singleton, and it will also be unable to place anyone else it paroles.

Having served his time, Singleton is entitled to live as a free man, subject to the terms of his parole. And he is entitled to the protection of the law should his safety be threatened.

The real culprit in this case is the determinant sentencing law, which largely took away judges' discretion in making punishments fit the crime. Determinant sentencing was enacted by the law-and-order lobby in an effort to make sure that all criminals went to prison. But it also makes sure that they get out. Each approach to sentencing has its problems, and law is a continuing effort to systematize society's rules while allowing for special circumstances.

Singleton's crime deserved a longer term. But he met the requirements of the law. The state should stand up to local opposition and enforce his right to find a home.

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