Loophole in California’s “Three Strikes” Law Closed as Voters Pass Proposition 36
Date:  11-09-2012

Voters send message that sending someone to prison for life for stealing socks should not be an option
California voters have overwhelmingly voted to amend a 1994 law which called for those with three felony convictions to be sentenced to life imprisonment even a felony was not be violent, or considered serious in nature.

On May 29, 2010 Reentry Central reported that Stanford Law School’s Criminal Defense Clinic was working diligently to help a man who was convicted of stealing a tool and costume jewelry, and was facing life in prison. According to the article, the man, Mark, “…has been incarcerated for 14 years for a shoplifting conviction. Because Mark has two other convictions for burglary that date back 12 years ago, he is facing life in prison under California’s “3 Strikes” law. The “3 Strikes” law allowed the prosecutor in Mark’s case to raise his petty larceny charge to a felony based on his prior burglary convictions when Mark was 19 years old. If the shoplifting case had been his first charge, Mark would have been fined $1,000 and sentenced to six months in jail.”

Advocates for changing the “Three Strikes” law included taxpayers who were outraged that millions of dollars was being spent to incarcerate petty criminals, when the state was facing an unprecedented budget crisis.

On November 6, California residents voted 68.6 percent to 31.4 percent to close the loophole that made it possible for the majority of non-violent offenders to face a life sentence. Proposition 36, according to Ballotpedia:

  • Revises the three strikes law to impose life sentence only when the new felony conviction is "serious or violent".

  • Authorizes re-sentencing for offenders currently serving life sentences if their third strike conviction was not serious or violent and if the judge determines that the re-sentence does not pose unreasonable risk to public safety.

  • Continues to impose a life sentence penalty if the third strike conviction was for "certain non-serious, non-violent sex or drug offenses or involved firearm possession".

  • Maintains the life sentence penalty for felons with "non-serious, non-violent third strike if prior convictions were for rape, murder, or child molestation."
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