In the coming months, look for a lot of media distortion of the Three Strikes law. The reason is that voters will be faced with a ballot initiative in the next election which will propose requiring that the third strike be a serious or violent felony. The media is fully behind the initiative, and will do its best to hide the arguments against it. Be on guard.
Today’s example of distortion is this article in L.A. Weekly.
Perspicacious readers will already be suspicious. After all, this is an alternative weekly, and is not likely to be balanced on criminal justice issues. Still, because I think this is an important issue, I don’t want anyone to get taken in.
Right off the bat, the article doesn’t tell you the truth:
When Mandy Brazell’s fiancé, Teddy Baldwin, was in his early 20s, he was sent to prison twice — once for burglarizing a house, the second time for breaking into a car. After that, she says, he learned his lesson and stayed out of trouble for several years after his release. But then his son died of leukemia, and Baldwin slipped back into the grip of a cocaine addiction. In short order, he was arrested on drug charges.
“He did something wrong, and he deserved punishment,” says Brazell, a slight 21-year-old with pale-blue eyes and blond hair pulled back in a bun. “He should have got five or six years.”
Instead, Baldwin was sentenced last January to 25 years to life in prison — another petty criminal caught in the sweeping net of California’s “Three Strikes” law.
This description cannot be true. While residential burglary qualifies as a strike prior, breaking into a car (without more) does not. There is something you aren’t being told.
What that is, I have no idea. Perhaps when Mr. Baldwin broke into the car, there was someone inside, and he put a gun to their head and took their car. That would be a strike. But car burglary isn’t. Don’t be fooled.
Someone who goes to prison for residential burglary, then for car burglary, and is now facing a cocaine possession charge will either receive drug treatment under Proposition 36 (if the car burglary occurred more than 5 years ago), or will face a maximum of seven years in prison (and will likely go to prison for considerably less time). The fact that Mr. Baldwin was sentenced to 25 years to life means he committed some other serious or violent offense that is being hidden from you, the reader.
The article goes on to describe the Justice Policy Institute as a “Washington, D.C.–based sentencing-reform group.” That description is accurate only if you read the phrase “sentencing-reform group” as meaning “group of liberals that wants to make sentences more lenient.” The article goes on to cite the group’s study, which suggests that the law as written has not made California safer — a ludicrous conclusion on its face.
There is a legitimate debate concerning whether the law as written makes sense, when you compare the benefits against the cost. The main benefit of the law is that you are safer. But the media doesn’t want to tell you this. The media makes it sound as though we are spending scads of money for no discernible benefit whatsoever. Media types will support this argument by suggesting that offenses such as car burglaries subject you to the harsh penalties of the strike law.
Again I say: don’t be fooled. The media will lie to you about this topic again and again. I urge you to read the law yourself, look at what qualifies as a serious or violent felony, and ask yourself: do you want people committing these offenses a third time before we finally put them away?
P.S. I should of course acknowledge that some of the article’s mistakes may result from incompetence and not a deliberate intent to lie.