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California Proposition 36: Amending 'Three Strikes' law

October 10, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
Eighteen years after California voters approved a "three strikes" law for repeat offenders, they'll have chance to revise it. If Proposition 36 passes, judges would impose a life sentence only when the third felony conviction is serious or violent.

In order to be sentenced to life in prison under California's Three Strikes law, the first two offenses have to be serious or violent crimes. The third does not.

Critics say that's a gross injustice, having more than 3,600 inmates in state prison for 25 years to life for relatively minor crimes like drug possession and shoplifting a pair of socks as their third strike.

"Proposition 36 only applies to extraordinarily minor crimes," said Michael Romano, co-founder, instructor and supervisor of the Stanford Three Strikes Project at Stanford University Law School. "It's a modest reform that restores the original intent of the Three Strikes law to target serious and violent offenders."

Proposition 36 seeks to change the law so that the third crime must also be serious and violent.

The Stanford Three Strikes Project uses the example of Shane Taylor, who is 15 years into a life sentence. His third strike? Possession of less than $10 of methamphetamine. His prior offenses were burglary and attempted burglary.

If it wasn't his third strike, Taylor probably would have been released after eight to 10 years. If Prop. 36 passes, he would be eligible to have his case reviewed by a judge for possible re-sentencing and release.

"If your prior crimes are murder, rape and child molestation, you don't get the benefit of Proposition 36 no matter how minor your third-strike offense is," said Romano.

Proponents also like to point out the state could save $100 million a year by having fewer inmates in prison serving life sentences.

But the father of Three Strikes law is sounding the alarm, saying that if criminals have already committed two serious or violent crimes, it's only a matter of time until they commit a third one.

Mike Reynolds, who co-wrote Three Strikes, lost his daughter during a purse-snatching back in 1992 to two thugs who were in and out of the criminal justice system.

"While they were out, though, during these little 'crime sabbaticals,' think of the amount of damage that they were doing to society, including the murder of my 18-year-old daughter," said Reynolds.

Reynolds worries crime will go up because many criminals who would have been locked up for a long time under the current Three Strikes law will receive shorter sentences if Prop. 36 is approved.

"The real question is should he be provided with an opportunity to do yet another serious or violent crime? That's what I want to ask you," said Reynolds.

The general election is on November 6, 2012. Your vote can help decide many important issues for California. Over the next few weeks, Eyewitness News will focus on the propositions on the November ballot.


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