Responding to my complaint, the L.A. Times has corrected the voter guide on Proposition 36. They had erroneously stated that a defendant with two prior strikes who commits a third felony is “automatically sentenced to 25 years to life” — “no matter what the seriousness” of the third felony. Today, they changed the language.
So: Great Success, right?
Yeah, not so much. Here is the new language:
Under current law, 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 supposed to be sentenced to 25 years to life.
“Supposed to”? When it almost never happens these days?
Sigh. Here is my follow-up email:
Thank you for your quick attention to my email today. Unfortunately, the new language is still substantially misleading. The new language says: “Under current law, 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 supposed to be sentenced to 25 years to life.”
It’s a step in the right direction to remove the misleading language stating that a 25 to life sentence is “mandatory.” However, to say a defendant “is supposed to” be sentenced to 25 to life “no matter what the seriousness” of the third felony is simply not the law or the practice in Los Angeles County or others.
The term “supposed to” is defined as follows:
(usually with to) meant, expected, required, obliged. He produced a handwritten note of nine men he was supposed to kill.
But in Los Angeles County and other counties, criminals with two strikes on their record are not “meant, expected, required, or obliged” to be sentenced to 25 years to life, if their current crime is neither serious nor violent. Under Steve Cooley’s policy, such people are presumed to be treated as second strikers, and merely have their sentence doubled. And the overwhelming majority of such defendants are not sentenced to 25 to life. How can they be “expected, required, or obliged” to be given 25 years to life when it is presumed that they won’t be and almost never are?
Your language conveys the impression that a 25 to life sentence for a current non-strike offense is expected and even obligatory, when the opposite is true: such sentences are quite rare.
What the guide ought to say is that current law authorizes a 25 to life sentence for any felony committed by a suspect with two prior strikes. However, under current law, a judge may strike priors and give a lower sentence, after considering the suspect’s criminal history, the seriousness of the current offense, and the suspect’s prospects for leading a law-abiding future. The proposition, by contrast, removes any ability to sentence prisoners to life when the current offense is neither serious nor violent, with certain enumerated exceptions.