Like many of you, I have been watching events unfold since the tragic bombing/shooting attack in Norway that has left 76 people dead. It is a tragedy of epic proportions. There have been a number of pictures of the suspect in the attack grinning while in police custody. NPR had a story that indicated that under Norway's laws, the most prison time the suspect is liable to face is 21 years in prison. No wonder this guy is grinning like the Cheshire cat.
Norway, like a few other European nations, has eliminated life imprisonment. Spain, Portugal and much of the former Yugoslavia have also done away with life sentences, but Norway's maximum of just 21 years incarceration is an outlier even among the more liberal European states.
"I think it's just a reflection of the Norwegian ethos and the Norwegian self image," said Mike Newton, a professor at Vanderbilt University Law School. Norway, he said, "doesn't culturally tend to focus on crime and criminality and certainly not criminality of this magnitude."
Newton said the events of last week are likely to shake things up.
"What this may do is overcome some of the cultural resistance that might have been in place of people who said simply, 'We don't need to worry about that,'" he said. "Well, clearly it's been demonstrated that the Norwegians do need to worry about it."
I am not one who thinks that prison should be overly punitive. However, at some point you have to wonder if justice is served when you can kill 76 innocent victims in cold blood, and only get 21 years in prison.
It will be interesting to watch and see if this causes those normally staid Norwegians to change their laws. If I was Norwegian, I know what I'd vote for.