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Thursday, July 8, 2010

No Prison Means No Deterrence

Crimes against culture rarely appear on the radar of law enforcement authorities. And when such crimes are investigated--oftentimes after years of time and effort--many prosecutors tend to let such cases fizzle. That is what happened again today when a plea bargain was accepted in a Utah courtroom. A federal district court judge sentenced Brent Bullock to five years of probation supervision and sentenced Tammy Shumway, widow of the infamous antiquities looter Earl Shumway, to three years of court ordered supervision after a half year of home confinement.

The over two year investigation into antiquities looting and trafficking in the Four Corners area of the United States is just the latest example of intense investigative efforts being rewarded with light sentences. Five defendants have now been convicted and sentenced to no time in prison. To be fair, one of today's defendants received a time-served sentence. But serving three weeks pre-trial time in jail is different from being sentenced to jail.

Prosecutors across the country took years to recognize that domestic violence was a legitimate crime. When it was acknowledged as a crime and jail sentences were pursued by the authorities, there came a marked increase in the detection and deterrence of the criminal activity. Crimes against culture require this same kind of recognition.

That is why crimes against culture must earn meaningful court sentences that include incarceration. Weighty sentence tell other law enforcement and prosecution agencies that this crime is serious. Moreover, meaningful sentences tell other would-be grave robbers and antiquities traffickers that the price of doing illegal business by erasing history includes losing one's liberty. If the cost of site looting is of no consequence, then there is little incentive to deter a looter or trafficker.

Organizations like the Archaeological Institute of America and others must continue to educate authorities about the damage done when archaeological material is ripped from its context. That is to say, the irreparable harm caused by removing evidence of our past from the ground without proper documentation.