In my legal practice I have long represented people charged with “stirke” offenses facing life sentences. These are some of the most difficult and heartbreaking cases to work on.
Many of the prior “serious” or “violent” charges do not really seem that bad, and often the choice of what makes a serious or violent charge is arbitrary. For example, stealing a bicycle from an attached garage is a strike offense (burglary) while stealing the same bicycle directly from a little girl is not a strike (grand theft person). Criminal threats was often a common plea to domestic violence charges prior to the three strikes offense (before three strikes, it was a less serious than domestic violence) – so, perversely, a person with a more serious domestic violence case did not end up with a strike, but the guy with a defensible case took a plea bargain and ended with a strike!
Three strikes was never based on serious debate or solid research and experimentation into the causes and prevention of crime. Instead, it was enacted by voters as an emotional response to a particularly horrific crime that still happens today. That said, there is a bit of improvement based on the modest reform passed last November – by a margin of 2/3 in this county. As a result, many of the worst and most horrible excesses of the three strikes will be avoided in the future, but it’s still not enough.
Unfortunately, the future is still murky for the several thousand people currently serving life sentences under the old law. These individuals must apply for re-sentencing and have a hearing before the trial court. Even if the person would absolutely NOT be eligible for a life sentence under the new rules, the prosecution can still keep these poor shoplifters, bad check writers, and petty drug users in prison for life if they can persuade a judge that the individual poses an arbitrary and undefined “unreasonable risk to public safety”. Of course, there are no clear legal guidelines to direct this judicial clairvoyance, which is a recipe for inconsistent and unconstitutional results. Part of my current practice is helping individuals that qualify for resentencing under the new law.