'Shoplifter' fails to halt deportation to US

By John Aston,Press Association
Friday 20 November 2009 18:20

The High Court has refused to halt the deportation of a US citizen who fears he could spend at least 17 years in jail - and possibly life - if found guilty of shoplifting electric toothbrushes.

Miguel Sanchez could face severe punishment under California's tough "three-strikes and you're out" laws.

Today two judges ruled European human rights laws could not save Sanchez from harsh American punishment on the basis that it was "inhuman and degrading".

Lord Justice Moses, sitting with Mr Justice Hickinbottom, said the English courts should not interfere with the decision of "a democratic friendly state" to radically increase the sentences of repeat offenders.

If convicted of the toothbrush crime, Sanchez, currently held at Belmarsh top security prison, would become a "third strike offender".

The judge said this would normally result in an indeterminate sentence of imprisonment of at least 25 years.

However the Californian prosecuting authorities had given an assurance that Sanchez would not be prosecuted as a third-strike offender.

But a careful analysis of the Californian three-strikes penal code by Sanchez's lawyers showed he could, in the light of previous convictions, nonetheless receive a sentence of between 17-23 years if found guilty.

The judge said Sanchez was asking the court to overturn the Home Secretary's refusal to revoke his deportation order.

It was argued even a sentence of 17-23 years would be disproportionate to his crimes and amount to inhuman and degrading punishment, contrary to Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

It was the Home Secretary's case that even if Sanchez was to face a life sentence, with a minimum term of 25 years, his Article 3 rights would not be affected.

Rejecting Sanchez's application for judicial review, the judge said: "A democratic, friendly state has decided that those who repeatedly offend run the risk of sentences in which proved previous conduct will radically increase the term of imprisonment.

"It is impossible to say that to send this man back to face trial would, in all the circumstances, be exposing him to a risk of a breach of Article 3."

Mr Justice Hickinbottom agreed.

Sanchez is wanted for trial for second degree robbery. He allegedly, in September 2006, stole electric toothbrushes from a chemist in Santa Monica, and put a security officer in fear that he might use force or violence as he fled.

He came to England a month after the alleged offence. Here he received a three-year jail sentence after committing a series of offences under the alias "Zachary Tracey", including burglary and possession of prohibited drugs, weapons and ammunition.

He was recommended for deportation back to the US.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments