Norway’s longest prison term of 21 years is rarely handed out and even convicted murderers have been known to avoid it. Questions have thus arisen over how it could apply to police officer Eirik Jensen, convicted of accepting bribes amounting to less than USD 100,000 and protecting a hash smuggler, but legal experts claim important social principles are at stake.
“Eirik Jensen would probably have received an even longer prison term than 21 years if it had been possible,” Erling Lyngtveit, an attorney and former state prosecutor, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Tuesday.
That’s because the charges on which Jensen, long a highly respected and trusted leader with the Oslo Police District, was convicted are considered harmful to society as a whole. The Oslo City Court’s more than 100-page-long conviction left no doubt, in Lyngtveit’s mind, that Jensen must be punished hard for actions that betrayed the public trust and were proven, according to the court, beyond a reasonable doubt. Jensen, meanwhile, is likely to appeal.
Justice for society most important
Lyngtveit pointed to a series of text messages exchanged between Jensen and admitted hash smuggler Gjermund Cappelen that were presented as evidence and that he found to be strong. The judges accepted them as well, as proof of cooperation between a police officer and a hash smuggler, “and you can hardly think of anything worse and more damaging to the public’s confidence in the police, and for the Norwegian police themselves, to reveal that kind of relationship. It must be punished hard, and especially hard. There’s no doubt about that.”
Just days before Jensen was sentenced to 21 years in prison, and Cappelen to 15 years in part because he cooperated with police on the investigation into his relationship with Jensen, another jail term was handed down for a double homicide in Kristiansand that raised questions of whether justice was being served. In that case, a 16-year-old boy who stabbed two people to death last winter was sentenced to 11 years in custody. The families of his victims were upset, but the court took the assailant’s age into consideration along with the damage done to society. It seemed to indicate that it was much less than the damage done by Jensen.
Norwegian prison terms in general are relatively lenient compared to those in many other countries, not least the US, and the criminal justice system in Norway also puts a high priority on rehabilitation.
‘Special combination’ in Jensen case
Norway has another stricter punishment available, called forvaring (protective custody) that’s aimed at protecting society from especially dangerous criminals. It can effectively result in a life term, subject to the criminal’s signs of rehabilitation, and that’s the punishment that was given the young Norwegian who killed 77 people in his attacks on July 22, 2011. Jensen’s offense wasn’t considered as bad as that.
Jørn Jacobsen, a professor of the law at the University of Bergen, agreed with Lyngtveit that Jensen could have received a longer standard jail term if one was available. “I think that in these special cases, where we have this special combination of narcotics and corruption involving a public servant and that’s so extensive, it’s natural to think that a punishment would be in the highest levels of the framework lawmakers have set,” Jacobsen told NRK.