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November 8, 2012

Intriguing accounts of how California's three-strikes reform will be implemented

The San Jose Mercury News and the Los Angeles Times both had interesting pieces today on how California's ballot-initiative reform of its three-strikes law will get implemented.  Here are snippets from the San Jose Mercury News piece, headlined "California Prop. 36: Families of some three-strikers hope for early release or shorter sentences":

By an overwhelming margin, they'd passed Proposition 36 to revise the state's tough Three Strikes Law. The new law prohibits judges from imposing a life sentence on most repeat offenders who commit minor crimes. But it also includes a provision that could result in an early release or shorter sentence for ... up to 3,000 inmates ... who were sentenced to life in prison for nonviolent, relatively minor crimes like stealing a credit card....

But just how fast lifers get a resentencing hearing before a judge -- and if they get out early at all -- is likely to depend on where they were convicted. The movement on cases might go more slowly in conservative places like the Central Valley, while in relatively liberal Los Angeles County and the Bay Area, things might move along more efficiently. "We're probably less likely to see the DA acquiesce on petitions for release or resentencing in many cases,'' said Kern County's interim chief public defender, Konrad Moore.

Jeff Adachi, San Francisco's public defender and a spokesman for the California Public Defenders Association, estimated it will take six months to a year in most counties. In contrast, Santa Clara County is nearly ready. The county's acting public defender, Molly O'Neal, has already drawn up a list of 127 three-strikers who may be eligible to apply for a shorter sentence or early release. "I hope we begin getting people out before the end of the year," O'Neal said. "This will right an unfairness in the system dating from (1994) when Three Strikes was passed."

The process will be much quicker in Santa Clara County because District Attorney Jeff Rosen promised well before the election that he would seek shorter terms or outright release for at least some three-strikers even if Proposition 36 lost. His office has already done much of the necessary research, cutting down on the need for lengthy court hearings in cases where he and O'Neal agree on a solution.

O'Neal said a Stanford law school graduate who worked on the university's Three Strikes Project is helping with the effort for free. The director of the project, law school Professor Michael Romano, co-authored Proposition 36.

Here are excerpts from the Los Angeles Times piece, which is headlined "Softer 3-strikes law has defense lawyers preparing case reviews":

A day after California voted to soften its three-strikes sentencing law, defense lawyers around the state Wednesday prepared to seek reduced punishments for thousands of offenders serving up to life in prison for relatively minor crimes.

The process of asking courts to revisit old sentences could take as long as two years and benefit roughly 3,000 prisoners.  They represent about a third of incarcerated third-strikers.

Proposition 36 garnered about 69% of the vote.  The initiative won in all 58 counties, amending one of the nation's toughest three-strikes laws, one that had overwhelming voter support when it was approved in 1994 amid heightened anxiety over violent crime. "People want a fair and just criminal justice system," said Michael Romano, who helped write the proposition and runs a Stanford Law School project that represents inmates convicted of minor third strikes....

Courts can reject a request to reduce a sentence if they determine the prisoner is a danger to public safety. Inmates with prior convictions for rape, murder and child molestation cannot be released under the measure.  "This is not going to open the prison floodgates," said Garrick Byers, a senior attorney with the Fresno County public defender's office.

Byers, who said he spoke for himself and not his office, received several calls from relatives of third-strikers Wednesday seeking help for loved ones and said he suspected that other attorneys around the state received similar requests.

In Los Angeles County, the public defender's office estimates 500 to 525 former clients could seek reduced sentences.  Hundreds more represented by private lawyers or the county's alternate public defender's office when they were originally sentenced under the law could also head back to court.

Although defense lawyers have plenty to do in the short term, Los Angeles County Public Defender Ron Brown said he expects the new law will have little impact on future cases. The county's prosecutors have followed a general policy of not seeking life sentences for relatively minor strikes since Steve Cooley became district attorney in 2000. "I don't see a major sea change for L.A. County," Brown said....

Mike Reynolds, whose daughter's 1992 murder led him to spearhead the creation of three strikes, said he believed many voters were misled to think Proposition 36 was a tough-on-crime measure.  He predicted the initiative would undermine an important deterrent and prevent prosecutors from locking up repeat offenders before they had the chance to hurt new victims. "This was a great day for criminals and their attorneys," Reynolds said.

November 8, 2012 at 10:27 PM | Permalink

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I have reivewed the New York times story of Norman Williams 3rd strike offender having been released in 2009. I have a family member who appears to have the same situaton, currently remains incarcerated. Any advice or research that may be given, he has attempted to appeal only to be denied.
He has been in/out of the system since the age of 13 for burglary offenses with his 3rd strike occuring in 1987 committing him to 45 to life sentence he will be approaching the age of 50 which I personally feel is a life sentence his crimes were commited in San Bernardino California.
I am just a family member of a loved one reaching out for some professional hopeful guidance

Posted by: Rosemary | Apr 1, 2014 6:27:58 PM

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