California Residents Pass Proposition 36 Modifying “Three Strike” Sentencing Scheme

Back in October, I blogged about Stanford Law School lecturer, Michael Romano, and his efforts to change California’s controversial three strikes law. As discussed in the previous post, three strikes was passed in 1994 and is a criminal sentencing scheme that imposes substantial additional prison time to sentences of certain repeat offenders.

Under the three strikes scheme, if a person is convicted of any felony, and has two or more prior convictions qualifying as “strike” offenses, the judge must impose a sentence of at least 25-years-to-life. In certain circumstances, the law also applies to “second strikers” and requires a judge to sentence a person to twice the stated prison term on the current charge if they have a prior strike.

Yesterday, California voters passed Proposition 36, a measure drafted by Romano, Stanford law professor David Mills, and NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund attorney Jeffrey Robinson, eliminating the 25-to-life sentence in cases where the defendant’s recent offenses are classified as “non-serious” or “nonviolent” but leaving life sentences in place for offenders convicted of an “extremely violent” offense such as rape or murder. Prop 36 also allows individuals currently serving life sentences under the three strikes law to apply to be resentenced if their third strike was a non-serious or nonviolent crime.

Opponents of Prop 36 argue that Three Strikes served a valid purpose, to keep violent repeat offenders off the streets. In a position paper opposing Prop 36, the California District Attorneys Association opined that “The current Three Strikes law has directly and significantly acted to reduce crime in California. Three Strikes law is a valuable, essential, and proven tool in the fight against crime.”

However, those of us that supported Prop 36 know that the initiative will save California at least $100 million each year as a result of fewer parole hearings, shortening of lengthy prison terms for current inmates, and a decrease in California’s overcrowded prison population.

Perhaps most important to the Prop 36 movement is that it will prevent offenders from receiving unfair prison sentences for minor crimes.

Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley, Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen, and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascn, were among the supporters of Prop 36. According to Cooley, “The state should not allow the misallocation of limited penal resources by having life prison sentences for those who do not pose a serious criminal threat to society. The punishment should fit the crime.”


Orange County criminal defense attorney Lauren K. Johnson has extensive experience protecting the rights of the accused, especially in the context of juvenile crimes. If you have questions regarding California’s criminal law or your rights, contact attorney Lauren K. Johnson today.