California’s “Three Strikes and You’re Out” statute was a law born of sensational murder cases in the early 1990s in which the victims were innocent young girls and the perpetrators were violent repeat offenders. At the time of its passage, the California statute was the harshest sentencing law in the country — and criminal lawyers witnessed its tragic effects.
The three-strikes statute was enacted in 1994 to protect society from career criminals. But after nearly two decades, liberals and conservatives agreed that it was in need of significant reform. As many as 3,500 of the third-strikers were sentenced to 25 years to life for nonviolent offenses as benign as stealing a $2.50 pair of socks or a slice of pizza. Meanwhile, second- and third-strikers crowded California’s prison system, making up roughly 25 percent of the population.
The reform measure, known as Proposition 36, won the support of 69 percent of Californians in the 2012 election. Specifically, Prop 36 amended the three-strikes law to:
- Impose life sentences only when a new felony conviction is serious or violent
- Authorize resentencing for those currently serving life sentences if the third conviction was not serious or violent and the revised sentence doesn’t pose a risk to public safety
- Maintain life sentences if the third conviction was for certain sex or drug offenses or involved firearms
- Maintain life sentences if the prior convictions were for rape, murder or child molestation
A recent Stanford Law School study found that as of September 2013, more than 1,000 petitions for release under Prop 36 had been granted and another 2,000 are yet to be resolved. Riverside County had processed about 58 percent of its Prop 36 petitions. The inmate releases have already saved taxpayers $10 million to $13 million. And the recidivism rate for Prop 36 inmates was just 2 percent, as compared to a statewide average of more than 16 percent.
If you have questions about Prop 36 or other criminal law matters, contact us for a free initial consultation.