Three Strikes Law
Eighteen years after Californians passed the controversial Three Strikes law designed to curb violent crimes and take habitual offenders off the street, voters took to the polls in 2012 to overwhelmingly approve a modification of the law designed to loosen many of its harshest provisions.
The Three Strikes law as originally passed in California mandated 25-years-to-life prison sentences for any offender who commits any new felony (including non-violent ones) after previously being convicted of at least two violent or serious crimes. Proposition 36, which passed with more than 68% of the vote, revises the law to impose a life sentence only if the new felony conviction is also “serious or violent,” or if any of the offender’s prior convictions were for murder, rape, or child molestation. The law continues to impose a life sentence for certain other nonviolent sex- or drug-related third convictions, or if the third conviction involves firearm possession.
The law also allows prisoners currently serving life sentences under Three Strikes, if their third conviction was not serious or violent, to seek re-sentencing. Out of the nearly 8,900 current third-strikers in the prison population, about 3,000 are currently serving life sentences for relatively minor third convictions and can now apply to a judge for shorter sentences or early release by filing a petition for habeas corpus.
The new law was crafted not to let repeat offenders off the hook; under the new law, repeat offenders convicted for non-violent felonies will be treated as if they have one previous strike, which means they would still get double the standard prison term for their most recent offense.
The controversial original law has been criticized for being overly harsh because it mandated life sentences after conviction of relatively minor or non-violent crimes. Crimes that caused Three Strikes to be applied and mandate a life sentence have included stealing a pair of socks, forging a check for less than $150, attempting to break into a soup kitchen, and receiving stolen property.
The new law comes at a time when California is under pressure, thanks to a federal court order, to relieve its bloated prison system of overcrowding.