Petitions are being circulated across California, proposing to significantly change the Three Strike Law.
The goal is to gather 500,000 signatures by June 17 enough to meet statutory requirements. The law requires the signatures of at least 365,880 registered California voters.
Leading the Three Strikes Reform Act of 2016 campaign is CHOOSE1, a grassroots, nonprofit organization that hopes to place the reforms on the November election ballot.
The California Attorney General’s Office has given CHOOSE1 until June 17 to gather voter-registered signatures to qualify the initiative.
“I am excited to see another attempt to further chip away at the terrible Three Strike Law that has put thousands of people away for decades, while costing taxpayers billions of dollars,” says Emily Harris of Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.
The proposed initiative would make two changes to the state’s existing Three Strike Law. First, serious and violent felonies committed before the law was enacted will no longer be considered when courts are deciding to sentence an offender for a second or third strike.
Second, the law will remove “criminal threats” of violence from the list of felonies that are considered serious under state law.
When the Three Strike Law was enacted in 1994, prior felony convictions were applied retroactively. Offenders convicted of new crimes with prior convictions dating back five, 10, 15 or even 30 years were immediately subjected to sentencing under the new law.
Many offenders’ pre-1994 convictions were the subject of plea bargains, at which time they were informed that they would be sentenced for a specified amount of time, with a one- or five-year enhancement. They were not told they could receive a life sentence.
Among those who would become eligible for relief if the initiative is approved are Tolbert Williams, who received 50 years to life for having in his possession two stolen mini speakers, and Michael Williams, who received 35 years to life for a verbal threat.
|“Many third-strike offenders that have felony convictions
prior to March 1994 have now served 20 years
or longer behind bars and are now between the ages of 37 and 60”|
The Three Strike law is wrong because it re-punishes offenders for felony convictions, which is a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment, double jeopardy clause, says Julie Piccolotti, a proponent of the initiative.
Piccolotti said she believes the current Three Strike law should have never been applied retroactively to prior felony convictions that predate its enactment. She said in particular because many offenders’ priors were plea agreements, in which they agreed to serve a specified amount of time for committing a new offense that did not include a life term.
The Three Strikes Reform Act of 2016 seeks to correct errors in the law. According to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, the ballot measure will save the state hundreds of millions of dollars by resentencing individuals currently imprisoned under a third strike sentence. Many third-strike offenders that have felony convictions prior to March 1994 have now served 20 years or longer behind bars and are now between the ages of 37 and 60. Many of these offenders have rehabilitated themselves and some are medically incapacitated.
Studies show striker prisoners in this population demographic are less of a threat to public safety.
In an April 2014 study by the Stanford Three Strikes Project and NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund on the progress of Proposition 36 resentencing and release of prisoners, the recidivism rate of those released after being resentenced is 1.3 percent.
Proponents of Proposition 36 attribute its low recidivism rate to several factors: age and time served.
According to Californians for Safety and Justice’s post-election survey on Proposition 36, voters show overwhelming support for the ballot measure that cuts across party lines with broad support for future reforms.
With a national trend by conservatives and liberals, including President Barack Obama, for reform of the criminal justice system, CHOOSE1 and other organizations believe this is the right time to once again amend California’s Three Strike law.
Diana Zuniga of Californians United for a Responsible Budget said its organizations have continued to “fight against California’s Three Strike Law and one day repealing the law all together.”
For more information, the web site is www.choose1.org. 80 Cabrillo Hwy N, STE Q #609. Half Moon Bay, CA 94019. 650-503-6759