“Three Strikes and You’re Out!” Changes in CA

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“Three Strikes and You’re Out!” Yes, the term comes from baseball, but it also refers to our criminal justice system. This statute states that a person’s third felony conviction yields a lifetime prison sentence. These sentences are typically given without the possibility of parole for at least the first 25 years.

The popularity of this type of law began in the 1990’s, and California passed its Three Strikes Law in 1994. Twenty-six states in total had implemented similar Three Strike Laws by 2004.

On California’s ballot for the November 6, 2012 election, people were able to vote for, or against, Proposition 36, which proposed changes to the Three Strikes Law. The proposition was approved by approximately 53% of voters, according to the Secretary of State. This changes the “Three Strikes and You’re Out Law” that was elected by California voters in 1994.

In 2004, another proposition, Proposition 66, tried to change some of the Three Strike Laws, but was rejected. Proposition 36 won in all 58 counties this election.

What does Proposition 36 mean for the Three Strikes Law for new offenders?

Previously, any third strike led to a life sentence. Going forward, life sentences will only be imposed when the 3rd felony is “serious or violent.” This is the case unless one of the first two strikes were for rape, murder or child molestation.

What does Proposition 36 mean for the Three Strikes Law for offenders currently serving a life sentence?

For offenders currently serving a life sentence where their 3rd strike was a “non-serious or non-violent” felony, a re-sentencing can be authorized. It will be at the discretion of the judge to determine whether the offender is a risk to the public’s safety or not. This determination will decide whether individual sentences will be reduced or not.

Of the approximately 8,800 people serving life sentences in California under the 1994 Three Strikes Law, about 3,000 of them will be able to petition for reduced sentences because their 3rd felonies were classified as “non-violent.”

Due to the large amount, sources say this process can potentially take up to 2 years to re-visit all of these sentences. While that will cost money to do, in the long run, the reduction of sentences should save the state of California a decent chunk of change.

According to the California Propostion 36, 3 Strikes Reform ACT, a general population inmate costs the state about $41,849 per year and an inmate of the Three Strikes Law, costs approximately $50,105 per year. This additional cost is due to maximum security housing and more medical needs.

Ballotpedia.com says the reduction of these sentences can potentially save California $150-200 million per year.


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