California’s Prop 36 Puts Three-Strikes Law Back On The Ballet in November

The Recorder published a story regarding Stanford Law School lecturer, Michael Romano, and his mission to overhaul California’s controversial three strikes law. Launched in 2006 by Romano, the Three Strikes Project is a Stanford law school student-run organization charged with representing inmates serving life in prison under the three strikes law.

California’s three strikes law was passed in 1994 in the wake of the murders of 18-year old Kimber Reynolds and 12-year-old Polly Klaas by men with criminal records. Codified at California Penal Code Section 667(b), three strikes is a criminal sentencing scheme that imposes substantial additional prison time to sentences of certain repeat offenders. Specifically, Section 667(b) states:

It is the intent of the Legislature in enacting subdivisions(b) to (i), inclusive, to ensure longer prison sentences and greater punishment for those who commit a felony and have been previously convicted of serious and/or violent felony offenses.

Under the three strikes law, 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. It is important to note that 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.

Upcoming Vote
On November 6, 2012, California voters will be given an opportunity to vote on Proposition 36, a measure drafted by Romano, Stanford law professor David Mills, and NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund attorney Jeffrey Robinson. Proposition 36 would eliminate the 25-to-life sentence in cases where the defendant’s recent offenses are classified as “nonserious” or “nonviolent.” However, offenders previously convicted of an “extremely violent” offense, e.g. rape or murder, would still be subject to a life sentence. Further, Prop 36 would allow individuals currently serving life sentences under the three strikes law to apply to be resentenced if their third strike was a nonserious or nonviolent crime.

According to the Recorder’s story, approximately 9,000 inmates are currently serving life sentences under three strikes; of those only 2,800 would be eligible for reduced sentences under Prop 36. The California Legislative Analyst’s Office has concluded that Prop 36 would have a much greater economic impact, saving California an estimated $70 million a year by reducing the number of inmates. Opponents of sentencing reform counter Prop 36 supporters by claiming that savings on housing prisoners will be negated by the additional cost of dealing with released inmates who re-offend.

Orange County criminal defense attorney Lauren K. Johnson has extensive experience protecting the rights of the accused, including those charged with “third strike” crimes. If you have questions regarding California’s criminal law or your rights, contact attorney Lauren K. Johnson today.