Voters in California have altered the “Three Strikes and You’re Out” law by voting on Proposition 36. An overwhelming 69 percent voted to reform it. Since its establishment, this law mandated that after a person commits three serious offenses their sentence must be from 25 years to life. However, these offenses could be nonviolent. Meaning the State could and did lock people up for life even though they had not committed any violent crimes.
The reform modifying this law has gotten rid of the possibility that nonviolent people could be locked away for life. For the third crime a person commits to actually count as a “third strike,” it needs to be a violent crime.
Slate.com speculates that voters not only found this to be a fair modification, they also liked the estimate that adopting this modification would save the State $100 million a year – the projected cost of taking care of those convicted of petty crimes.
The law resulted from a kidnap-murder case of a young girl where the criminal had been out on parole when he committed the crime. He had a history of violent crimes. So the law was implemented to prevent something like this ever happening again. However, the inclusive nature of how it was written reprimanded those with small crime histories, people like Norman Williams.
Williams’ three robbery charges from 1982-1992. Slate.com gives this summary of his crimes:
In 1982, he burglarized an empty apartment while it was being fumigated. After he was robbed at gunpoint on the way out, he helped the police find the stuff he’d stolen. In 1992, he tried to steal tools from an art studio. When the owner confronted him, he dropped everything and ran.
Slate wrote about how this past election showed that politicians may be less fearful of advocating for reform. For instance the office of Steve Cooley, Republican District Attorney for Los Angeles, usually pushes for punishing by death penalty. However, he and Michael Romano, a supervising attorney for the Criminal Defense Clinic at Stanford Law School, helped get Norman Williams out of prison. He supported Proposition 36 because he saw convicting people in situations like that of Williams as a waste.
In Texas, Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley did not win reelection. The Huffington Post attributes much of his loss in popularity to the role he played in the imprisonment of exoneree Michael Morton when working under the former district attorney. When he became the D.A.,Bradley continually denied the retesting of a bloody bandana linked to the crime. Morton is suing the D.A. that Bradley worked with to convict him for prosecutorial misconduct; they withheld a crucial testimony given by Morton’s son.
Huffington quotes Julie Stewart, president of the criminal justice reform group Families Against Mandatory Minimums, saying that conservative leadership has to approve of reform before it can be widespread. Stewart says:
“Democrats are perceived as soft on crime and Republicans as tough on crime. So, when Republicans call for sentencing or drug reforms, it becomes safe for everyone to support the reforms. It’s the Nixon goes to China syndrome.”