Reassessing California’s Three Strike Law

In the state of California, a non-confrontational burglary, petty theft, and a minor drug infraction could land a person in prison for life. This is possible because of California’s three-strike law passed in 1994. The law was billed as keeping career criminals who commit serious crimes out of society for life. However, in California the term serious encompasses more than crimes such as murder, rape, child molestation and armed robbery and is left up to interpretation. Therefore, California has inmates serving life sentences who have never done anything more “serious” than petty theft. It is for this reason that many Californians are calling for the three-strikes law to be reformed.

Individuals such as Los Angeles District attorney, Steve Cooley, and attorney Michael Romano are taking steps towards this reform. Cooley has created a policy in his office that keeps the prosecutors from asking for life sentences unless one or more of the crimes have been violent or serious. This has dropped the number of LA County three-strike convictions by 39%. Romano started a clinic at Stanford Law School in order to appeal the convictions of offenders serving life sentences under the law who had never committed a violent or serious crime. One must applaud these individuals for trying to fix a law that has been left too broad for too long. While few would argue that the strikes law isn’t necessary, a growing number believe it should be reserved for the violent offenders who pose a threat to society. What side will you be on if the reform effort for the three-strike law takes hold?



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