Tuesday, September 10, 2013
Three-Strikes Reviews Are 40 Percent Done, Lacey Says
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office has completed evaluations of approximately 40 percent of the 1,078 cases in which prison inmates sentenced in the county under the Three-Strikes Law are asking to be resentenced, District Attorney Jackie Lacey reported yesterday.
The reviews are necessary because Proposition 36, the sentencing reform act overwhelmingly approved by voters last year, contains a limited retroactivity provision.
Proposition 36 amended the state’s Three-Strikes Law by providing that, with limited exceptions, a third “strike” that is not a serious or violent felony will result in the same sentence as a second strike—twice the usual sentence—rather than a sentence of 25 years to life in prison.
A current inmate whose conviction and sentence are final, but who would otherwise qualify for a lesser sentence under Proposition 36, is eligible to be resentenced under the new law unless prosecutors prove that the inmate is dangerous.
Lacey said the work of her office’s Third Strike Resentencing Unit had resulted in the resentencing of 260 inmates as of Aug. 29. Forty more inmates are waiting for resentencing in the county, while the office has opposed resentencing in 170 cases.
“Proposition 36 did not open the prison doors to every inmate eligible for resentencing under California’s revised Three Strikes Law,” Lacey said in a statement. “Voters intentionally placed a high burden on prosecutors to protect public safety by conducting exhaustive reviews of each inmate’s criminal record to determine if he or she is, in fact, suitable for release back into our communities. These are difficult decisions that have lasting effect on the quality of life in Los Angeles County.”
Lacey asked the public to measure her office’s commitment to Proposition 36 by the total number of cases evaluated – not the number of inmates resentenced.
“The law is very clear: It does not require resentencing,” the district attorney said in the release. “It requires a thorough evaluation of the inmate’s criminal history and incarceration record to determine if he or she poses an unreasonable risk of danger to public safety.”
The district attorney explained that the review process involves looking at inmates’ prison, police, and court records, including some from out-of-county and out-of-state, as well as contacting victims.
“An inmate who appears suitable for release based on his or her current offense may have a history of violence while incarcerated. Another may have been convicted of a nonviolent offense, but trial transcripts may show that the jury hung on a more serious and violent offense. At that time, prosecutors did not retry the defendant on the more serious crime because he or she had been sentenced to life in prison under the old Three Strikes Law.”
The Court of Appeal for this district ruled last May in People v. Superior Court (Kaulick), B46632 that the district attorney is entitled to an evidentiary hearing in any case where it opposes resentencing under the retroactivity provision. The defendant in Kaulick drew a sentence of 25 years to life in prison—plus a one-year prior-prison-term enhancement—for false imprisonment by violence, which is not automatically classified as a serious or violent felony by the Three-Strikes Law, although it may be such under the particular circumstances of the case, such as when a dangerous or deadly weapon is used.
The conviction arose from an incident in which he assaulted a neighbor who had offered to help him move some property out of his apartment. She said he closed the door, tore her blouse, and placed his hand over her mouth, then threw her on the bed and ordered her to remove her clothes, before she kicked him between his legs and ran from the apartment, screaming and naked from the waist up.
He was also charged with assault with intent to commit rape and criminal threats, both serious or violent felonies. Those charges were dismissed after jurors deadlocked.
The Third Strike Resentencing Unit is comprised of five full-time deputy district attorneys and one part-time deputy district attorney, plus paralegals and law clerks, Lacey said. She noted that the office did not receive extra funding to handle the new caseload.
Copyright 2013, Metropolitan News Company