Politics

Three Strikes Law could be modified under Prop 36

Friday, October 19, 2012

In a few weeks, you'll be asked to decide whether to alter the nation's toughest criminal sentencing statute -- California's Three Strikes Law. Proponents of Proposition 36 say the current law is unfair; opponents say the ballot measure is not only a bad idea, it's dangerous.

The Three Strikes Law was passed by both the state legislature and by voters after the murder of 12-year-old Polly Klaas in 1993. The law allows judges to give life sentences for criminals who commit a third felony -- no matter how minor -- if they have two prior serious or violent convictions. They would be eligible for parole after serving 25 years. Dawn Koepke with Crime Victims United is an advocate for crime victims.

"We're talking about offenders that have serious or violent pasts and importantly, these are also offenders who have shown a propensity to re-offend time and time again," said Koepke.

Proposition 36 would change the law to impose life sentences only if the new felony conviction, or third strike, is serious or violent. But criminals whose third strike was for non-serious or non-violent felonies which involve sex, drug or firearms could still be sentenced to life.

Under Prop 36, three strikers currently serving life sentences could apply for a new sentence if their third strike was not serious or violent. But a judge would have to decide if they're still a risk to the public.

Someone who commits a third strike that's not serious or violent, but whose prior two strikes were for rape, murder or child molestation would still face life in prison.

Proponent Mike Romano heads the Stanford Three Strikes Project. He says three strikers are going to prison for life even for the most minor third offense.

"The small amount of people who have committed non-serious, non-violent crimes, who have never committed a very heinous crime like rape, murder, child molestation, the people who are in prison, clogging up our prisons and creating overcrowding, they will get the benefit of proposition 36," said Romano.

"I'm a simple dad and father of an 18-year-old girl who was murdered at the hands of two repeat offenders exactly 20 years ago this year," said Mike Reynolds, the original author of the Three Strikes law.

Reynolds is a staunch supporter of the Three Strikes Law. He testified against Prop 36 at a recent legislative hearing.

"It dumbs down one of the most effective crime laws in California. Secondly, it releases literally thousands of the most active, serious and violent offenders back onto our streets," said Reynolds.

Sacramento Sheriff Scott Jones also testified at the hearing.

"To accept Proposition 36 is to accept and acknowledge that there will be new crime victims that otherwise wouldn't have been," said Jones.

San Francisco's George Gascon is one of the few district attorneys in the state who openly support the measure. For him, it's a question of fairness.

"Someone arrested for a low level offense, such as shoplifting with prior convictions or minor drug possession, can go to prison for 25 years to life, I think there is something completely disproportionate," said Gascon.

There are currently about 9,000 third strikers in prison now. If the proposition becomes law, the Legislative Analyst says roughly 3,000 could apply for new sentences.

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