Earlier this month, activists and community members rallied outside Albany County District Attorney David Soares’ office to launch the Release Marquis Coalition. The rally was in support of Marquis Dixon, a 16-year-old who was sentenced to nine years in an adult maximum security prison for stealing a pair of sneakers at gunpoint, even though no weapon was ever recovered.
Marquis’ mother Aisha Dixon agreed that her son deserves punishment, but did not agree with the severity of that punishment. “I do believe my son is guilty of a crime, stealing sneakers, but he’s not guilty of a gun charge…You know, nine years is too long,” said Aisha.
Protesters argue that keeping Dixon in prison for a 9-year term is not a successful deterrent to the crime. They are asking the District Attorney to publicly state on record that Dixon’s sentence was excessive. “Locking up Mr. Dixon for nine years does nothing. Nothing for him. Nothing for our community. And ultimately does nothing to enhance the quality of life in the community for all of us. And then on top of that, it’s costing us an enormous amount of money,” said Cessie Alfonso, board member of Citizen Action for the Capital District.
Meanwhile, District Attorney Soares argues that the type of stolen item should not impact sentencing. Soares explained, “I believe that there should be reform in criminal justice. But I don’t believe that that reform starts with allowing young people with weapons to be robbing other people, and then making decisions about sentences based upon what the bounty of that robbery was. Had he merely ‘stolen’ or ‘taken’ a pair of sneakers from a retailer and received a 9 year sentence, I too would be in line with protesters calling for justice.”
Mr. Dixon turned down an earlier offer to plead guilty to a lesser charge for a far lesser sentence than he ultimately received. A jury of 12 people, after hearing all the facts of the case, found him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and a judge thought a greater sentence was appropriate.
Did the punishment fit the crime? This case raises serious questions about criminal justice reform. While few, if any, would argue against incarcerating violent offenders, imprisonment for minor crimes has been hotly debated, especially when questioning the appropriate punishments for teens offenders.