Sunday, June 6, 2010

Three Strikes And California's Out

"Williams, who is 46, was a homeless drug addict in 1997 when he was convicted of petty theft, for stealing a floor jack from a tow truck. It was the last step on his path to serving life. ... Still, for the theft of the floor jack, Williams was sentenced to life in prison under California's repeat-offender law: three strikes and you're out. In 2000, three years after Williams went to prison, Steve Cooley becaume the district attorney for Los Angeles County. Cooley is a Republican career prosecutor, but he campaigned against the excesses of three strikes. 'Fix it or lose it,' he says of the law. In 2005, Cooley ordered a review of cases, to identify three-strikes inmates who had not committed violent crimes and whose life sentences a judge might deem worthy of second looks. His staff came up with a lost of more than 60 names, including Norman Williams's. ... In 1994, the three-strikes ballot measure in California passed with 72 percent of the vote, after the searing murder of 12-year-old Polly Klaas, who was kidnapped from her slmuber party and murdered while her mother slept down the hall. When the killer turned out to be a violent offender recently granted parole, support surged for the three-strikes ballot initiative, which promised to keep 'career criminals who rape women, molest children and commit murder behind bars where they belong.' The complete text of the bill swept far more broadly. ... But in California, 'serious' is a term of art that can also include crimes like Norman Williams's nonconfrontational burglaries. After a second-strike conviction for such an offense, almost any infraction beyond jaywalking can trigger a third strike and the life sentence that goes with it. One of [Michael] Romano's clients was sentenced to life for stealing a dollar in change from the coin box of a parked car. ... Now California is in the midst of fiscal calamity", Emily Bazelon at the NYT, 23 May 2010, link:

My favorite three-strikes criminal stole three 75 cent candy bars from a convenience store. At $62,000 a year, California's taxpayers will spend about $1.6 million to incarcerate him for the next 25 years. Over $2.25! Really! The Mikado's Lord High Executioner would not be pleased. As a practical matter most three-strikers will be parolled; eventually. My barber opposed this law. I asked him why. He said because it would make witness murders "free". Why not kill the witness? It won't add to your time. I told him strictly speaking it would cheapen witness murders as robberies accompanied by murders would be more likely to be investigated than "straight" robberies. He thought about this for a minute, said I was right and still opposed the law. My barber was a college dropout who took one economics class at NYU in the late 1940s.


Anonymous said...

Re: "witness murders" -- incentives count!

Re: 3 strikes -- a rich peoples folly -- we're rethinking everything -- long overdue!

W.C. Varones said...

Yeah, except with plea bargaining and lazy prosecutors, most "three strikes" felons have many more serious crimes under their belt.

They always make a big deal of the triviality of the last strike, but if you looked at these guys' full criminal history, you wouldn't shed a tear for any of them.