Michael Pichinte, 39, and his nephew Christopher Pichinte, 20, were arrested in San Bernardino County, California on October 31, 2012 and charged with murder, carjacking and robbery. Their victim was Eduardo Martinez III, 40, of Victorville, California, who was found dead along the side of the road. Police gave out no real details about the suspects or their motives and only stated that they had “found evidence linking the two to the murder.” Sabrina Martinez praised her deceased husband as “the most loving, sincere, respectful, honorable and loyal person that I have ever known” and said that “his whole world revolved around his family, specifically me, his kids and his mother” (Staggs and De La Cruz 2012). Michael Pichinte had a 2007 conviction for drunken disorderly conduct while his nephew Christopher had no criminal record of any kind. Both men were arraigned and pled not guilty and are now being held in the county jail with bail set at $3.0 million. This murder in still under investigation and an autopsy has not yet been performed on the victim to “determine the exact cause of death” (Staggs and De La Cruz 2012).
Social Control theorists maintain that most people obey the laws, rules and regulations of mainstream society because they have been trained and socialized to do so, while those who are more likely to become criminals and delinquents have weal social and community bonds.
Travis Hirshi wrote the classic work on social control theory, Causes of Delinquency in 1969. Numerous studies of juvenile delinquents over the last forty years have confirmed Hirschi’s views that such youths do feel detached from society and conventional morality, and have a weak attachment to family, friends and school. Poverty, segregation and racism are the main causes of social and community breakdown that have led to high rates of crime, violence and delinquency in the inner cities. Law enforcement bias is more evident in poor and minority communities with high levels of social breakdown and pathology.
Social Control theorists maintain that most people obey the laws, rules and regulations of mainstream society because they have been trained and socialized to do so, and have also developed an internal moral sense. If they break the law, they fear that the consequences will hurt their families, result in the loss of status, employment and job opportunities, and damage their standing in the community. Their behavior is controlled by “attachment and commitment to conventional institutions”, while those who lack this will not be deterred from deviance by threats of punishment because “they have little to lose” (Siegel, 2012). Early social control theories like those of Albert Reiss and Scott Blair in the 1950s also emphasized that juvenile delinquents have weak egos and failed to develop self-esteem in childhood, and that those less concerned about social standing were more likely to break the law.
In his classic work Causes of Delinquency (1969), Travis Hirshi expanded on these ideas, arguing that considerations of morality were important for some people, but not for others. Like all social control theorists, he assumed that criminal behavior was amoral or immoral rather than culturally determined, and that criminals are cut off from society and communities. People with strong social and community ties were less likely to be criminals, who were amoral and purely self-interested. Crime and delinquency occurred “when an individuals’ bond to society is weak or broken” (Hirschi 2002). Regardless of color, religion or social class, those who lacked such ties “may fall prey to criminological behavior” (Siegel 2012). Sociopaths and psychopaths have exceptionally weak links to family, friends, neighbors and society, while those who build up these attachments they would be less likely to be involved in any behavior that would endanger their social position. Numerous studies of juvenile delinquents over the last forty years have confirmed Hirschi’s insight that such youths do feel detached from society and conventional morality, and have a weak attachment to family, friends and school. Research also shows that youths with strong religious attachments are less likely to use drugs or become involved in criminal behavior, as are those with a commitment to “future success and achievement” (Siegel 2012). On the other hand, delinquents and criminals are not always socially isolated, since they often “maintain relationships with deviant peers and are influenced by members of their deviant peer group”, especially gangs (Siegel 2012).
Social control theories could include many factors that cause individuals to be alienated from society and the community, such as racism, social and economic problems, poverty, police brutality, social class and lack of economic and educational opportunities. Indeed, these are probably the main causes of social and community breakdown that have led to high rates of crime, violence and delinquency in the inner cities. From the early-1970s, poverty and inequality in wealth and incomes have also increased, and this affected minorities more than any other group. By 2000, 1% of the population had almost half of the wealth in the United States. In the United States over 75% of blacks still live in segregated neighborhoods that are often crowded, dangerous, lacking in social services, employment and educational opportunities. Segregation in residential and economic life “makes it difficult to solve other problems connected to poor communities, such as crime, violence, poor health, high mortality, and abandonment of houses”, all of which have worsen greatly in the current recession (Ihewulezi 2008). About 10% of young black males are in prison, and even though blacks and Hispanics are only about 22% of the U.S. population they are over 70% of those in prison. They are also the overwhelming majority or persons convicted on narcotics charges (West 2001). Indeed, young blacks and Hispanics are far more likely to be in jail or on parole than in college and more likely to live in impoverished single-parent families (Ihewulezi, 2008). Although there is no way of knowing whether all this applies to the two suspects in this murder case, the odds are that much of it probably does.
Applying social control or any other theory to this crime is difficult given the lack of detailed information about the suspects or their motives. A social control theorist would examine their family, community and economic situations and attempt to determine how well integrated they were into mainstream society. Although there is no way of knowing any of this from a brief newspaper article, just reading between the lines indicates that they may not have strong connections to their communities. This is especially true if the uncle is a negative role model for his nephew or has a drug or alcohol problem. Both are Hispanics and therefore members of a minority group that is often profiled, discriminated against and imprisoned out of proportion to their actual percentage in the population. Their victim was Hispanic as well, but of course this is by no means unusual since minorities are most likely to be victims of crime at the hands of a perpetrator in their own group. They are disproportionately likely to be both the victims and perpetrators of crime, which also leads to increased surveillance and profiling by the police.
Minority communities have higher levels of poverty as well as drug and gang activity, although there is no evidence in this case that the killers were drug dealers or gang members, while the victim sounds like a father and husband who was fairly well-integrated into the community. Certainly the type of carjacking and murder they allegedly committed resembles that often committed by youthful gang members, although the uncle is a little too old for that. Neither Michael nor Christopher Pichinte have the kind of lengthy criminal records normally associated with these kinds of professional criminal activities, although to put it mildly Michael certainly seems to have a negative influence on his nephew. It may well be that Christopher has no alternative role models, community links or educational and economic opportunities outside of this association with his uncle. Michael must exert some type of very powerful control over his nephew to get him involved with a murder, which so violates the ethical and legal norms of society. According to social control theory, then, not only may they have weak and limited connections to society, but their community may also suffer from poverty, drug and alcohol abuse and high levels of crime and violence.
Hirschi, T. (2002). Causes of Delinquency. Transaction Publishers.
Ihewulezi, C.N. (2008). The History of Poverty in a Rich and Blessed America. Bloomington, IN: Author House.
Siegel, L. (2012). Criminology, 11th Edition. Wadsworth Cengage Learning.
Staggs, Brooke Edwards and Rene De La Cruz (2012). “Two Men Arrested for Mariposa Road Murder.” Daily Press, November 2, 2012.
West, C. (1993, 2001). Race Matters. Boston: Beacon Press.