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Michael Nevin Jr. - Contributor

Michael Nevin Jr. is a 3rd generation California law enforcement officer and freelance writer. Mike's writing explores many topics ranging from the War on Terror to issues facing America's police officers. Mike is a contributing writer for several Internet websites including ChronWatch, American Daily, Renew, and Men's News Daily. He can be contacted at [go to Nevin index]

California’s “Three Strikes” Law—No Laughing Matter
Vote No on Proposition 66.
[Michael Nevin Jr.] 8/27/04

I asked a parolee what he thought of California’s “three strikes” law and whether or not it’s effective. Without hesitation he replied, “It’s no joke!” In 1994, California passed what is considered to be one of the toughest criminal justice measures nationwide, the “three-strikes-and-you’re-out” law.

The “three strikes” law consists of many serious or violent felonies. A person convicted of one of these “strikes” faces twice the normal sentence for a second felony, and a “two striker” faces 25 years to life for any third felony conviction. Californians had enough of the revolving door system that was in place a decade ago. Unfortunately, it took the kidnap, rape, and murder of a young girl by a parolee in 1993 to highlight the need for reform.

All laws deserve a thorough review to determine effectiveness. Numbers don’t lie and they are plain to see. A review of the California crime index from 1993—the year prior to the passage of “three strikes”—to 2003 shows a dramatic drop in violent crime. In 1993, California had 4,095 homicides, 11,754 forcible rapes, and 126,347 robberies. In 2003, the state had 2,402 homicides, 9,918 forcible rapes, and 63,597 robberies. According to a May 2004 article in the San Francisco Chronicle: “Factoring in population growth, California’s crime rate has dropped by more than 40 percent since three strikes passed, double the national rate of decline.”

A 2002 study published in the Journal of Legal Studies by Professor Joanna M. Shepherd examined California’s “three strikes” legislation. The empirical study came to the following conclusion: “These results support the theory of full deterrence: strike legislation deters all offenders, not only offenders facing their last strike.” The study also found that during the first two years following the enactment of the law deterrence of these crimes saved approximately $889 million.

If you’re a law-abiding California resident, what’s not to like? An initiative on the November ballot, Proposition 66, would eviscerate the current law. In no small effort, the father of a convicted felon has helped to finance the measure in order to gain an earlier release of his son. However, not only would one drunk driver responsible for the deaths of two people be released early, but according to the California District Attorney’s Association, the measure is retroactive thus sending over 26,000 felons now serving time for “three strikes” offenses back to local jurisdictions for re-sentencing and eventual return to the streets. It’s only obvious that the price tag for California counties to re-sentence these felons would be expensive. More importantly, these guys won’t exactly be returning from the Peace Corps.

Kenneth Parnell is an inmate who was sentenced under “three strikes” for attempting to buy a 4-year-old boy in 2003. This infamous child molester gained notoriety in 1980 when he was convicted of kidnapping two boys. He could be released within weeks if this proposition is approved by voters. The “three strikes” law was written for incorrigible pariahs like Parnell.

The new initiative would limit the second and third “strikes” to crimes on the serious or violent felony list rather than any felony conviction. Several crimes would be removed from the serious felony list including residential burglary, felony gang crimes, and felonies in which great bodily injury is inflicted unless intent can be proved. Those in law enforcement understand the adage—show me a rapist and I’ll show you a burglar.

Does it stop there? Of course not. The measure would limit one “strike” per prosecution. Picture any serial killer or rapist on trial for multiple offenses and then ask yourself if only one “strike” should count? This measure is not only ridiculous—it’s dangerous.

Alameda County Deputy District Attorney Jeff Rubin, an expert on the subject, explained to me that “Proposition 66 is just a disaster.” Rubin was quick to point out that “three strikes” prosecution is used only sparingly. Not only is there district attorney discretion in every case, but judges have power over sentencing as a result of the 1996 California Supreme Court ruling in People v. Romero. Rubin also made this observation: “The cost of keeping felons in custody is minuscule compared to the economic and financial cost of the crimes these guys commit out of custody.” Every California District Attorney is opposed to weakening “three strikes,” and they view the current law as an indispensable tool.

Before any initiative becomes law it must pass this simple test: First, do no harm. To be sure, Proposition 66 will do nothing but harm. This should serve as a clarion call to prudent voters that this initiative will not only undo a good law, but beyond any reasonable doubt, it will increase the crime rate. Mike Reynolds, a sponsor of the original “three strikes” law, said it best when he told me, “Proposition 66 provides a chance for twice convicted serious and/or violent offenders to commit yet another serious or violent crime. If laws are about chances, when does the victim get one?” California’s current “three strikes” law is “no joke.” We shouldn’t make it one. CRO

For more information:

No on Proposition 66—Protect Public Safety

Three Strikes and You’re Out—Stop Repeat Offenders

copyright 2004 Michael Nevin Jr.




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