Pittsburgh man accused of stealing faces 20 years to life

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PITTSBURGH – A Pennsylvania man accused of stuffing $31 worth of candy bars into his pockets faces a possible sentence of 20 years to life in prison, prompting a judge to question whether the sentence was "over the top."
Pittsburgh prosecutors chose to charge Corey Hairston, 24, under a statute that boosts the alleged candy theft to a felony. The law applies to people who have been convicted of "theft of goods" at least twice. Hairston has five prior theft convictions, making him a "quad" offender under the state's habitual-offender law.
Hairston, 24, pleaded not guilty Thursday, The Pittsburgh Advocate reported.

The possible sentence raised questions with Judge Franz Zibilich, who was overseeing Hairston's arraignment last week.
"Isn't this a little over the top?" Zibilich said. "Twenty years to life for a Snickers bar, or two or three or four."
Hairston's attorneys, Miles Swanson and Michael Kennedy, said his prior guilty pleas were for similar shoplifting attempts, including stealing from a Rite-Aid, Save-A-Center, Blockbuster Video, and Rouses grocery stores.
Swanson said all the thefts were for less than $500 worth of items. The last theft of socks and trousers from a Dollar General store got him a four-year sentence in 2010.
One of his lawyers said he could have been charged under a different statute than the habitual-offender law.
"They're spending their time to lock someone up for years over $31 worth of candy," Swanson said.
Hairston also faces a charge of drug paraphernalia possession. He is currently free on $5,000 bond, court records show. His lawyers say he has a heroin problem. Hairston also has convictions for possession with intent to sell fake drugs and obscenity, a crime committed while he was behind bars, the newspaper reported.
Christopher Bowman, a spokesman for the district attorney's office, would not comment on the specifics of Hairston's case, citing office policy. He emphasized that the alleged crime was considered a felony by the state.
The case appears to be an extreme example of a widespread practice in Pennsylvania, which criminal justice reform advocates say has one of the toughest habitual-offender laws in the country, the newspaper reported.

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