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High strawberry crimes: What else gets you 15 years

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Fifteen years in jail is a popular sentence. It’s regularly handed out for murder, terrorism, secretly watching women change their clothes and all manner of sex offences.

Now, in Australia, following an announcement by Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday, hiding needles in strawberries will also get you 15 years.

The full charge is ‘food contamination’ – and the current maximum penalty is 10 years.

But with five states reportedly victim to sharp pieces of metal secreted into strawberries on supermarket shelves, and police believing the spree to be the work of copycats, what the government is responding to is food terrorism. It wants an extra five years added to the maximum.

The government is also introducing a new offence, recklessly contaminating food, that will carry 10 years. He said the new laws would go before Parliament next week. Labor has given the laws conditional support.

Complicating matters are people posting contaminated strawberries on the Facebook pages for a joke – and they too could face prosecution.

“It’s not a joke. It’s not funny,” Mr Morrison said at a press conference.

“You are putting the livelihoods of hard-working Australians at risk and you are scaring children, and you are a coward and a grub.”

Australian Federal Police Commissioner Andrew Colvin warned those sharing fake posts on social media could face prosecution. And Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton weighed in with his own press conference.

“If there’s anyone that thinks … it’s in any way appropriate or amusing to take a photo of fruit they may already had, and to put an object into it and put it on Facebook or Twitter and to spread it around and contact health authorities, they are seriously deluded,” Mr Dutton said.

Attorney-General Christian Porter used more temperate language: “Even if they did not intend that to be consumed by someone, you are potentially engaging in a very serious behaviour.”

Fifteen is considered a big stick. In 2013, the Queensland government announced that criminal gang members convicted of certain offences would be declared “vicious lawless associates” and be given an extra 15 years mandatory jail time on top of their sentence.

It’s a life sentence for some. In 2016, Otto Warmbier, a 21-year-old University of Virginia student visited North Korea – and was arrested for the alleged anti-state crime of trying to steal a propaganda banner. In 2017, he fell into a coma and died.

Apparently cheerful was Clara Harris when she walked free from a Texas prison in May after serving 15 years for her husband’s murder. She reportedly smiled as she came through the gates, suggesting she had worked through the rage that had prompted her to run over her husband David Harris – at least three times – with her Mercedes-Benz. This occurred outside the Nassau Bay Hilton, where Mr Harris had been with his mistress.

This month, a former Republican state senator in Oklahoma was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison for child sex trafficking.

Last month Miranda Gilbert, who was caught on camera pointing a gun at an Albuquerque couple last year, was sentenced to 15 years for being a career criminal. She had prior convictions and was not meant to be carrying a gun.

Back in 2009, the man simply known as ‘Benbrika’ became the first Australian to be convicted of leading a terrorist group. He and his six followers planned to blow up the MCG. Justice Bernard Bongiorno in the Supreme Court of Victoria sentenced Benbrika to 15 years after he failed to renounce violent jihad.

In 2016, two men who planned to bomb a Sydney prayer hall and stab people in the kidneys – in order to impress an IS recruiter – were jailed for at least 15 years. Omar Al-Kutobi, 25, and Mohammad Kiad, 27, each pleaded guilty to one count of acting in preparation for a terrorist act, after they were arrested during counter-terrorism raids in February 2015.

In 2015, Anthony James Freeman was jailed for at least 15 years for murder of his partner Yosi Solomon. Freeman became enraged while the pair were having sex and stabbed Ms Solomon with a kitchen knife.

In February, ABC journalists, reporting on secret cabinet documents, could have faced 15 years in jail if proposed espionage laws had already been put in place – according to former NSW Supreme Court judge Anthony Whealy. He said the proposed laws could criminalise even the handling of secret documents like those found in the Cabinet Files.

As for previous cases of food terrorism, last December Florida man Michael Wolfe was jailed to 15 years for hate crimes – after eating bacon in a mosque.

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