Prosecutors must charge defendants with sentence-lengthening “three-strikes” enhancements, even if they oppose the state’s three strikes law, a California appeals court ruled in June, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.
In the 3-0 ruling, Justice John Segal said that California’s 1994 three strikes law “shall be applied in every case” in which a defendant has a past conviction for a serious or violent felony. This upholds a February 2021 ruling that requires prosecutors to argue for increased sentences under the three strikes law, the June 3 article said.
However, while the ruling says that district attorneys cannot require prosecutors to oppose three strikes enhancements, the court also said they may seek dismissal of the strikes “in the interests of justice,” based on a defendant’s record and other factors. In these cases, a trial judge will decide whether a third-strike term would be excessive.
This comes after progressive prosecutors, such as George Gascón in Los Angeles and the recently recalled Chesa Boudin in San Francisco, have started vocally opposing California’s sentence-lengthening three strikes law, neglecting to enforce the law in their offices. Gascón opposes three strikes in all cases, while Bou-din sought three strikes only in “exceptional circumstances,” the article said.
Gascón’s policy prompted an in-house rebellion by the 800 members of the Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys Association, who accused Gascón of siding with the criminals and interfering with the traditional authority of prosecutors, said the article.
However, others have argued that sentence-lengthen-ing measures have led to huge increases in the state’s prison population, which creates overcrowding and disease, the Chronicle reports.
Attorney Nathan Hochman, a Republican candidate for state attorney general, called Judge Segal’s 3-0 ruling a victory. Gascón’s office shot back that the ruling “maintains the district attorney’s discretion and a-lengthening “three-authority as an elected constitutional officer. The court affirmed his ability to pursue his policy goals in the furtherance of justice.”
California’s three strikes law imposes sentences of 25-years-to-life for defendants convicted of a third serious or violent felony, regardless of the normal sentence for that offense, while second offenses double the usual sentence. Critics point out that the legal definition of “serious or violent” felonies is too broad and can include criminal actions that few would agree deserve long sentences.
In June, the same California appeals court that upheld the three strikes law made an additional ruling about sentencing increases. In this ruling, the court said that a law increasing sentences of up to 10 years for the use of a gun in a violent crime was not mandatory, and could be rejected by a judge at the prosecutor’s request. The court used the same “interest of justice” standard in this case as they did in the three strikes case.
This means that sentencing increases of up to 10 years for the use of a gun in a violent crime—another type of sentencing increases opposed by Gascón—do not require mandatory implementation, the article said.