Proposition 36 is a measure designed to weaken the Three Strikes law. As I write this, it seems destined to pass: polling consistently shows support over 60% and opposition under 30%. George Soros has spent a million dollars to support it. With Soros’s help, supporters are outspending opponents by more than 20 to 1.
What is all this money buying? The freedom of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of criminals with multiple serious and/or violent felonies on their record.
I plan several posts in coming days about how dangerous this proposition would be. The L.A. Times and others have tried to sell you a bill of goods. They claim that Proposition 36 might free only a few hundred (supposedly) aging prisoners who will (supposedly) be Certified Nonviolent by a judge, as opposed to the status quo where prisoners are (supposedly) “automatically” sentenced to 25 to life, and the prisons are (supposedly) being crammed to the hilt with thousands of nonviolent offenders. And don’t worry! Anyone with “homicide offenses” on their record will (supposedly) stay in for life.
That’s what you’re being told. But most of what you’re being told is wrong.
Even today, nobody is “automatically” sentenced to 25 to life, despite the L.A. Times‘s false claims to the contrary. Potential third-strikers already receive individualized hearings before sentencing, in which judges take into account the circumstances of their upbringing, the remoteness and violent (or nonviolent) nature of their previous strikes, and their future prospects.
Only about 10% of third-strike prisoners are over 60. When the L.A. Times pretends the third-strike population is a bunch of nonviolent old codgers, they are playing games with the facts.
A judge will not have to certify that they are not violent. You heard me right. As I will fully explain in future posts, once this horrible proposition is passed, judges all over the state will be holding hearings where people with two violent convictions on their record are seeking their freedom. And judges will be telling prosecutors that these violent convictions are almost irrelevant to whether the defendants pose an “unreasonable” risk of harm to society as required by the law. “What more do you have to show he is violent, other than just his convictions for manslaughter and armed robbery?” will be a typical question heard in such hearings. The best evidence of the risk these people pose will be brushed aside — because the law assumes that people with multiple strikes will be freed. I’ll have much more on this in coming days.
The prisons are not crammed full of third strikers, because District Attorneys across the state are already exercising discretion under the law. In December 2003, we had 7,335 third strikers. In December 2011, there were 8,848, out of a total prison population of 184,807. That’s an increase of 1,513 in eight years, which is fewer than 200 per year. So third strikers are fewer than 5% of the prison population, and every year we give life sentences to another 200 people — a tiny number which represents only one tenth of one percent of the 2011 prison population.
You’re being told that “homicide offenses” will keep people from being released . . . but what you’re not being told is that voluntary manslaughter and certain forms of vehicular manslaughter are not among this collection of “homicide offenses.”
The bottom line is as simple as it is frightening: people with multiple convictions for manslaughter, armed robbery, residential burglary, and other horrible offenses will be walking the streets once this thing passes.
And ignoring or weakening the Three Strikes law has consequences. People like Lily Burk are dead because people like Charles Samuel walked the streets when the law could have put them away. And I promise you: the L.A. Times editors know this, which makes their editorializing in favor of Prop. 36 particularly distressing.
I can’t put everything in one post. Since I am addressing this important issue late in the game, I plan to blanket the blog with anti-36 posts between now and election day.
I probably won’t change the outcome. But I will have tried. And I promise you: when these people hit the streets and start hurting and killing people — and they will — I’ll be right here to tell you that I told you so.
UPDATE: Added the words “certain forms of” to the post. Some vehicular manslaughter priors will deprive third strikers of the chance to petition for freedom, but not all. Thanks to JRM.