Anders Breivik killed 77 people, many of them kids, in carefully planned attacks on government buildings and a youth camp in Norway. Today he was determined to be sane, was found guilty of the mass murder — deemed “terrorist acts” under Norwegian law — and received the maximum sentence of 21 years in prison.
A man who kills 77 people is found to be legally sane? Sentenced to a mere 21 years in prison, as the maximum available penalty for the cold-blooded killing of dozens of people? And, according to the news article linked above, the “guilty verdict comes as welcome relief to victims and their families, who have been looking for closure 13 months after the tragic event”?
It is unimaginable that a disturbed mass murderer like Breivik, who is only 33 years old, could be walking the streets, a free man, in only two decades. What better indication could there be of the differences between the United States and Norway — their people, their criminal justice systems, and their concepts of just punishment — than this absurdly lenient sentence?
Many Americans applaud the European social model and decry the harshness of punishments meted out by American courts. Does anyone, however, seriously defend this grossly inadequate penalty and the notion that 21 years in prison is sufficient punishment for an unrepentant fanatic who gunned down 77 innocent people and now plans to write books about his attacks and his crazed political views?
Earlier this week the Supreme Court decided an interesting case that begins what will be a long process of determining how the criminal justice protections of the Constitution apply to knotty issues raised by our increasingly linked-in, networked, mobile device-oriented age.
The case raised the question of whether prosecutors could attach a GPS device to a suspect’s car and track its movements for 28 days without getting a warrant. The Court ruled, unanimously, that such conduct constituted an unreasonable search and seizure. However, the Court split on the question of the nature and extent of the constitutional violation. The majority opinion focused on the fact that prosecutors had physically attached the device to the suspect’s vehicle without consent. The concurring opinions, however, raised broader questions of how the government may apply electronic surveillance to suspects in an age where people carry cell phones and send unencrypted text messages and cars broadcast their locations. Do we have as much of a reasonable expectation of privacy in such information as we do in, for example, documents kept in a file folder in a locked desk drawer in our homes?
The Supreme Court’s latest decision is an example of how the law often has to follow, and respond to, technology. The Fourth Amendment language on searches and seizures and warrants was written in the days of travel on horseback, flintlock pistols, and communication limited to face to face conversations and written letters. The Supreme Court has had to revisit how the Fourth Amendment applies with the development of the telegraph, the telephone, and the automobile, and now it will need to do so again in our mobile information age.
I’m glad the Court came down, unanimously, against a warrantless attachment of a GPS device on a car — but that seems like a pretty extreme case. The closer cases will tell the tale. And one of the fundamental questions is likely to be: does the prevalence of mobile devices, and the abundance of personal information we routinely carry and communicate to just about everybody, make it more or less reasonable for us to view that information as private?