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August 22, 2012

Effective review of three-strikes initiative battle taking place in California

The Sacramento Bee has this lengthy new article providing an effective overview of the 2012 election season debate over an effort to reform California's three strikes law. The piece is headlined "'Three-strikes' battle returns to fall ballot in California," and here are excerpts:

Proposition 36 gives the state's electorate another opportunity to weigh in on California's 18-year-old "three-strikes" law, the toughest career-criminal sentencing statute in the nation.  Twice in as many decades, voters have sided in favor of a three-strikes law that allows judges to impose a life prison term for offenders who commit a third felony -- no matter how minor -- if they have two previous serious or violent criminal convictions on their records.

Proposition 36 proponents want to change the law to restrict the 25-years-to-life sentences, with some exceptions, to criminals whose third felony was serious or violent; nothing less than a residential burglary would qualify as a strike.

The measure would enable an estimated 3,000 of the 8,873 prisoners serving 25-years-to-life terms in the state as of June 30 to apply for resentencing hearings.  If their motions for new terms are granted, a good number of those 3,000 prisoners could go free.  The Legislative Analyst's Office estimates passage of Proposition 36 could save the state anywhere from $70 million to $90 million a year in reduced prison costs.

The initiative has had huge cash infusions from two sources.  Billionaire financier George Soros, the international hedge fund manager who has contributed millions over the years to change drug laws and other statutes he believes are too harsh, kicked in $500,000, according to the secretary of state's records. David W. Mills, a Stanford law professor and private investment manager, matched and raised the contribution.  Mills, a co-chair of the NAACP's Legal Defense Fund, put in $878,000.  The money Soros and Mills contributed paid for the $1.4 million signature-gathering effort that qualified Proposition 36 for the Nov. 6 ballot.

In an interview, Mills, 65, said his involvement in California's three-strikes law stems from his long-term interest in civil rights.  It is Mills' view that the sentencing measure's "dramatic effect on poor people and African Americans" makes it one of the leading civil rights issues of the day. "The notion I can live in a state in a country where we would send somebody to jail for 25-to-life for stealing a loaf of bread, a pair of gloves, a piece of pizza, for a gram of cocaine, or whatever, to me is incomprehensible," he said.

Opponents of the measure include the California Police Chiefs Association.  Sacramento Police Chief Rick Braziel signed the ballot rebuttal argument against Proposition 36 in his capacity as president of the California Peace Officers Association, arguing that thousands of criminals would be released from prison.  Top victims' rights organizations, such as Crime Victims United of California, also have lined up to fight the measure....

Mike Reynolds, the Fresno photographer whose daughter was murdered by a repeat offender, has served as guardian of the three-strikes law since its 1994 birth.  In an interview, Reynolds noted steep declines in the California crime rate in the 18 years that the law has been in effect.  He wonders why anyone would want to change it, and is angry at the thought of 3,000 career criminals getting out of prison.

"One hundred percent of them would have at least two prior serious or violent convictions," Reynolds said.  "Make no mistake.  We're talking about the bad boys.  These are the guys who are responsible for the worst of our crimes, the most active by definition.  And you want to put them back on the streets and not expect them to come back with new convictions?"

Another Proposition 36 opponent, Sacramento County District Attorney Jan Scully, sneers at the suggestion that the three-strikes change would save taxpayers' money by releasing people from prison.  "This assumes they're not going to commit any more crimes," Scully said. "Trust me, they are.  Then we'll have to prosecute them again, so they'll be taking up just as many resources as before, except they'll have new victims in their path."

August 22, 2012 at 04:28 PM | Permalink

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Comments

"Top victims' rights organizations, such as Crime Victims United of California, also have lined up to fight the measure."

"Another no-show has been the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, which has historically backed the three-strikes law."

LOL,

Crime Victims United of California: A powerful voice in state politics

Op-Ed
The victims group is aligned with the prison guards union.

Undue Influence: The Power of Police and Prison Guards' Unions
Sunday, 12 August 2012 00:00

JM: Under Novey, CCPOA launched a well-orchestrated public relations campaign, promoting the image of prison guards as gritty professionals who walk "the toughest beat in the state." In the early 90's, CCPOA also entered into a strategic alliance with two victims rights groups. Crime Victims United started out as a small political action committee, funded almost entirely by CCPOA. Together, they pushed a tough-on-crime agenda that included longer prison sentences and harsher penalties. They strongly backed the "three strikes" initiative in 1994, which passed by over 70 percent of the vote. Both groups endorse candidates, make campaign contributions, and lobby legislators. Harriet Salarno is president and founder of Crime Victims United. She can often be found wandering the corridors of the state capitol.

MACALLAIR: When district attorneys would bring cases against guards who were accused of abusing inmates, yeah they would go after them. They went after the district attorney in Del Norte county and the district attorney in King's county. One of them they defeated. They did a mail campaign right up at the end and essentially accused him of being a coddler of criminals and a criminal sympathizer. That message was not lost on district attorneys at the local level

Posted by: Winston Smith | Aug 22, 2012 7:55:51 PM

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