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Proposition 36: Changes to 'Three Strikes' Law

Casey Christie
The Californian / Reporting on Health Collaborative

A challenge to California’s “Three Strikes” sentencing law is on the ballot this fall with Proposition 36.  Proponents say some felonies should not result in life in prison.  Opponents say a change in the law would allow dangerous  criminals to be released.  

The proposition lists felonies that would qualify as a serious or violent crime - or 'strike' - and would make a defendant eligible for a life sentence. 

People convicted of a third felony would not face 25-to-life if the third conviction is for a non serious, non violent crime.  Prop 36 would allow 2800 inmates currently serving 25-years-to-life to appeal sentences based on the new definition.

Michael Romano with the Three Strikes Project at Stanford Law School supports Prop 36.

“Under California’s law crimes that would qualify as misdemeanors elsewhere can actually net you a life sentence in California.  So, you can get a life sentence for petty theft or simple drug possession.  California’s the only state in the country that imposes life sentences for those crimes.”

Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones says the proposed list of “non serious and non violent” offenses leaves out many crimes that should yield a life sentence for someone already convicted of two felonies. 

“Such things as elder abuse, child abuse likely to cause injury or death, assault on a peace officer likely to cause injury or death during an escape, solicitation for murder, vehicular manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter: all of those things, while common-sensically [sic] we would think that they are certainly serious or violent do not fit the defiinition.”

Jones says the average “third striker” has five previous felony convictions.

Other opponents to Prop 36 say current law is largely responsible for a 50-percent reduction in crime in California since 1994.  But, proponents say more effective policing has cut the national crime rate by a similar amount.

The Legislative Analyst’s office says state prison and parole agencies could save $70 million per year, but local jail and court costs would increase by a few million.   

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