Friday, September 28, 2012
IN MY OPINION (Column)
Support for Proposition 36
By STEVE COOLEY
Proposition 36 is a modest reform of the Three Strikes Law originally passed by the voters in 1994. It protects a very valuable tool to appropriately punish serious or violent recidivist offenders. Generally, it requires that the new felony offense be serious or violent for an offender with two prior strikes to receive a 25-to-life sentence. There are a number of exceptions, however, that allow a prosecutor to seek a 25-to-life sentence for a third offense that is neither serious nor violent based upon the criminal history of the defendant or some circumstances that relate to the new offense.
25-years-to-life in prison for someone convicted of a relatively minor new felony is not consistent with the goals and ethical values of the determinant sentencing law, i.e., proportionate sentencing, even handedly applied.
Importantly, Proposition 36 provides an efficient remediation mechanism for 25-to-life sentences imposed in some nonserious/nonviolent new felony cases primarily during the early years of the Three Strikes law. It allows courts to revisit these early sentences. There is nothing automatic that requires a judge to resentence someone who petitions the court to take a second look. Contrary to the position of the California District Attorneys Association, “…passage of Proposition 36 will potentially result in the release of thousands of criminals with long histories of committing serious or violent crimes, including residential burglaries, armed robberies, and vehicular homicides,” (emphasis in original),1 dangerous criminals will not necessarily be set free. A judge must determine that the inmate is no longer an unreasonable threat to public safety.
Proposition 36 reduces the potential of coerced plea bargaining.
The oft cited claim that crime in California is down due solely to the original Three Strikes Law belies statistics. Many other factors have contributed to the decrease in crime to the 60 year low that Los Angeles County now enjoys.
The modest reforms in Proposition 36 eliminate the potential for abuse of this powerful sentencing tool and will help to save the Three Strikes Law as an important sentencing tool and to protect public safety.
1 The Impact of Proposition 36 on California’s Three Strikes Law (California District Attorney’s Association, 2012) Section. III
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