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California Prisoner’s Life Sentence Upheld for Tossing Food Tray at Guard

by Mike Brodheim

On January 3, 2011, the California Court of Appeal, Fifth District, affirmed a “three strikes” sentence of 25 years to life for a prisoner who, while confined in a security housing unit at the California State Prison at Corcoran, threw a food tray at a guard through a port in his cell door.

Mark Dixon, 48, had a criminal history dating back to 1980, when he was convicted of numerous felonies including rape, sodomy, robbery and burglary, which were deemed “serious” and/or “violent” under California law. In 1987, while serving a 10-year sentence for those offenses, he was convicted of assault and received a consecutive six-year sentence. In 2000 he violated his parole and was convicted of both attempted forcible sodomy against a minor and resisting an officer. And in 2005, Dixon was convicted of battery by a prisoner on a nonconfined person, for which he received an eight-year prison term.

On October 15, 2008, Dixon threw his food tray at prison guard Richard Tait, as Tait was attempting to retrieve the tray from the food port of Dixon’s cell door. The tray struck Tait “on his hands and forearms,” and he bumped into a food tray cart when he backed away from the door. Dixon was also accused of spitting at Tait and swinging “a towel into the food port.”

In 2009 Dixon was convicted, for the second time in four years, of battery by a prisoner on a nonconfined person as a result of the incident involving Tait. The trial court then threw the proverbial book at Dixon by sentencing him to 25 years to life under California’s three strikes law. The Court of Appeal affirmed the sentence, rejecting Dixon’s claim that it constituted cruel and unusual punishment.

“Under the three strikes law, defendants are punished not just for their current offense but for their recidivism. Recidivism in the commission of multiple felonies poses a danger to society justifying the imposition of longer sentences for subsequent offenses,” the appellate court wrote. See: People v. Dixon, Court of Appeal, Fifth District (CA), Case No. F059120; 2011 WL 6592 (Cal.App. 5 Dist. 2011), review denied.

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Related legal case

People v. Dixon