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California Proposition 36 Three Strikes Sentencing

by Bob Morris, published

Proposition 36 seeks to change the California Three Strikes sentencing, which began in 1994 when Prop 184 passed. Under the current Three Strikes law, a person with two serious or violent felony convictions receives a sentence of life with a minimum term of 25 years for a third conviction, regardless of its seriousness. Under California Proposition 36 Three Strikes sentencing, those with two or more violent or serious convictions whose new offense is nonserious would instead receive a sentence double the usual prison term. In addition, this would be retroactive. Some current Three Strikers would have their terms reduced.

Proposition 36:

  • Revises the three strikes law to impose life sentence only when a new felony conviction is serious or violent.
  • Authorizes re-sentencing for offenders currently serving life sentences if the third strike conviction was not serious or violent and a judge determines that the sentence does not pose unreasonable risk to public safety.
  • Continues to impose life sentence penalty if the third strike conviction was for certain nonserious, nonviolent sex or drug offenses or involved firearm possession.
  • Maintains the life sentence penalty for felons with nonserious, non-violent third strike if prior convictions were for rape, murder, or child molestation.

Like Proposition 34, which would repeal the death penalty, Proposition 36 deals with highly emotional issues where voters are likely to have strong opinions. The proposition would save the state $70-100 million a year, only a tiny part of the multi-billion dollar California budget. However, finances are not what the debate on Prop 36 is about at core. Should those with violent or serious felony convictions currently serving time for nonserious crimes have their sentences reduced?

The No on 36 campaign says:

This is a very dangerous initiative that would allow almost one-half of California’s 3 Strike prison inmates to be re-sentenced and released. 100% of these convicted criminals have 2 or more serious or violent prior felonies. By changing the third strike requirement to also be serious or violent it not only provides the opportunity for a repeat offender to impact yet more victims, it also stops far fewer serious and violent criminals far later in their career. In other words: Too little too late! This reform initiative is simply a bad idea at the worst possible time.

The Yes on 36 campaign says Proposition 36 will:

Eliminate unintended and ineffective life sentences currently imposed for nonviolent, non-serious crimes. Restore the original intent and core purpose of the Three Strikes law: to keep dangerous and violent criminals behind bars. Save $100 million per year to fund schools, prevent crime, and decrease the need for tax increases.

For every Three Striker doing life for a minor crime that Yes on 36 might highlight to show unfairness of sentencing, No on 36 can, no doubt, counter them with tales of inmates released who then committed violent crimes. Voters will need to decide which side they support.

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