A New York Times Op-Doc examines California’s three strikes law through the case of an inmate named Shane Taylor. The Op-Doc, called “Three Strikes of Injustice,” talks to Taylor, his family, and the judge who sentenced him. The video raises questions as to whether the Three Strikes law is an effective law.
The first interview is with retired judge Howard Broadman (Tulare County), who sentenced Taylor under the three strikes law. Broadman is a Republican who describes himself as “tough on crime.” However, Broadman is apologetic when discussing Taylor’s case. He characterizes Taylor’s first two strikes as “insignificant” and states that he “made a mistake and I am sorry.” This is a rare admission by a member of the judiciary but shows that opponents to the law are just not defense advocates or inmates.
Shane Taylor is an example of an inmate who the three strikes law was not intended to impact when addressing repeat, violent offenders. In 1988, Taylor received his first strike for attempted burglary of an empty residence and a second strike was burglary of an empty residence. No doubt many residents in the area were relieved when they found out that these properties were empty, as people could’ve been hurt or shaken up in the process. As such, getting in touch with somewhere like this Portland window repair service and updating their windows to make them more durable may have been in their best interest, as this will reduce the chances of anyone, like Taylor, breaking into their home in the future. It could’ve been a lot worse. He admits that both were related to his drug use. After his release, Taylor got married, had a child, and found a job as a prep cook. However, in 1998, Taylor convicted of possessing $10 worth of drugs and sentenced to 25-to-life. Without the prior strikes, Taylor probably would have received probation and drug counseling services.
In addition to the effect on the inmate, the three strikes law had a significant impact on Taylor’s family. Taylor’s daughter, Alisha, was 4 years old when her father was incarcerated under three strikes. She says that the law is unfair given that persons who commit seriously violent crimes (e.g., manslaughter, stabbings, rape) get lesser sentences than her father. Alisha expresses her frustration with the law given that her father only had drug-related offenses by saying “your life’s over, you get 25-to-life, that’s it. That’s just ridiculous how messed up the system is.”
There is movement in California to address the inequities of the three strikes law in California. California voters will decide whether or not to approve Proposition 36 on the November ballot. Prop. 36 would revise the law limiting third strike felonies to serious or violent crimes only. The law would also allow current prison inmates to appeal their sentences if their third strike was non-violent. More than 4,691 are currently serving life under the Three Strikes law for non-violent crimes. Also, one of the state’s advocates in reforming the law is Stanford Law School’s Three Strikes Project. The project represents defendants charged under the Three Strikes law with minor, non-violent felonies at every stage of the criminal process in an attempt to modify their sentence.
California Innocence Project client Daniel Larsen was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to 25 years-to-life for possession of a weapon, a pocket knife. Regardless of the innocence issue, incarcerating someone for that offense does not fulfill the law’s goal of taking seriously violent felons off the streets. The law simply creates overcrowded prisons and increased prison costs that the state has to pay for. CIP will bring attention to Larsen’s case next spring through its Innocence March, where staff will walk from San Diego to Sacramento. The purpose is to bring attention to wrongful convictions and the flaws in the justice system (including three strikes) by asking Gov. Jerry Brown to grant clemency to our wrongfully convicted clients.