My Letter to the L.A. Times Readers’ Rep Regarding Proposition 36, the Proposition to Gut Three Strikes
I have just written the following email to the Readers’ Representative at the L.A. Times:
Your newspaper’s “voter guide” entry on Prop. 36 states: “Currently, when someone with two or more serious or violent felony convictions is convicted of a third felony — no matter what the seriousness — he or she is automatically sentenced to 25 years to life.” This is false. “Automatic” means “occurring as a necessary consequence” with no exceptions. But nobody is “automatically” sentenced to 25 years to life in California when their third strike is not serious or violent.
First, in Los Angeles and other counties, prosecutors exercise discretion in such cases, such that the overwhelming majority of potential third strikers are sentenced to determinate terms, usually under ten years.
Second, even in cases where a prosecutor decides to proceed with a case as a third strike, judges have the power under Penal Code section 1385 to strike a strike. This motion — called a “Romero” motion from the California Supreme Court case that ruled such motions are authorized by law — can be made by the judge without any request from the defendant. In such a motion, the judge considers a range of factors, including the seriousness and remoteness of the strike priors, the defendant’s behavior since his last strike prior, and his prospects for becoming a law-abiding member of society. Judges often use Romero motions to strike priors and sentence defendants to less than 25 to life. It happens literally daily across Los Angeles County.
It is misleading to say that a 25 to life sentence is “mandatory” for a current offense that is not serious or violent. It does not reflect what is happening in the state of California. I understand that the Los Angeles Times favors Proposition 36, but misleading your readers is not a legitimate way to attract support for a proposition.
It is imperative that this error be corrected before the election. I ask you to assign this correction the highest priority.
They have their thumb on the scale. You can help me pry it off by adding your thoughts to Readers’ Rep Dierdre Edgar. Be polite and factual. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.