Three Strikes Law

California is one of many states in the nation with a Three Strikes law.  Rooted in baseball terminology, the intent of the law is to act as a deterrent to would-be repeat offenders who are considering whether to reoffend. Ultimately, Three Strikes laws significantly increase the punishments received by offenders on their third offense if the first two convictions were for violent crimes. Typically, the convicted offender will receive a mandatory sentence harsher than non-three strikes sentencing, often with the possibility of a life sentence.

An Ineffective and Destructive Law

Numerous studies have shown the Three Strikes law does not serve as a deterrent to most potential reoffenders. Moreover, the implementation of the law has caused a tremendous increase in the size of California’s prison population, resulting in millions of dollars going to prisons instead of vital institutions like schools, firefighters, and infrastructure. Many also claim that the law has created a massive health burden on the state that has to deal with the increasing costs of an aging prison population.

Many proponents of Three Strikes argue that the law is responsible for the decrease in violent crimes in California. However, research has shown that California’s crime rate has decreased at a similar rate as many states across the country, including states that do not have Three Strikes laws. If Three Strikes is not decreasing crime, this law does nothing more than increase the cost of California’s criminal justice system. The law imposes life sentences for minor crimes, crowds prisons, and makes it difficult for offenders to be granted parole.

Recent Modifications in California

In 2012, California voters passed Proposition 36, which modified the state’s Three Strikes law. Under the previous law, the third strike could be a violent or non-violent felony. With the passage of Prop. 36 the maximum sentence can only be imposed when the new felony conviction is “serious or violent,” or for a minor felony crime if the perpetrator is a murderer, rapist, or child molester. After its passage, some inmates sentenced under the old law could ask the court to modify their sentence under the new law. At the time, supporters claimed that the new provisions could save California up to $90 million. Kenneth Corley from San Diego was the first inmate to be re-sentenced and released under Prop. 36 in 2012.

Three Strikes and the Wrongfully Convicted

California Innocence Project client Daniel “Danny” Larsen was wrongfully convicted for possession of a concealed weapon in 1999. The offense was Danny’s third strike, so he was sentenced to 28 years to life in prison. In 2010, however, Danny was found to be innocent of this crime, and a federal judge reversed his conviction. But, then-California Attorney General Kamala Harris appealed Danny’s exoneration on a technicality, insisting that he missed a filing deadline to challenge the conviction. Danny spent almost three years in prison before a federal judge ordered his release in 2013.  The California Attorney General continues to fight Danny’s state compensation claim for the days he spent in prison wrongfully.