Proposition 36 would revise the “Three Strikes” law (passed by Proposition 184 in 1994), so that anybody convicted of two serious or violent felonies would be sentenced to life imprisonment only if the third conviction was serious or violent. The current law states that a third felony conviction of any kind (not necessarily violent or serious) would result in a life term with possible parole after 25 years. Instead of automatically sentencing that person for life, the sentence would be twice the normal term for the felony offense. People previously sentenced to life imprisonment under the Three Strikes law would be eligible for re-sentencing under the new law.
Why vote Yes?
Since the current “Three Strikes” law means that any third felony conviction (even non-violent or “non-serious” offenses) results in a life sentence, and California law provides the ability to make even petty theft a serious felony, the law might constitute cruel and unusual punishment. Felons have received life sentences when the third offense consisted of stealing a slice of pizza, a set of children’s movies, possession of controlled substances and other non-violent, petty offenses. In fact, more than half of offenders serving “three strikes” life sentences got the third strike from a non-violent offense. Proposition 36 would help reduce the number of life sentences that come from a non-violent third strike, while ensuring that life sentences would still be imposed on felons with previous convictions of murder, rape or other violent offenses. In addition, the proposition would help reduce the economic and human burden of housing 137,000 inmates in California prison, requiring a budget of almost $9.0 billion.
What if Proposition 36 loses?
If Proposition 36 loses, the current “Three Strikes” law will remain in force. The state prison budget would continue to rise—perhaps as much as $90 million annually—and life sentences based on a third strike conviction from petty theft or other non-violent offense will continue. The current law was previously contested and argued before the U.S. Supreme Court as cruel and unusual punishment. While the Supreme Court ruled by a 5/4 margin in favor of California law, such lawsuits are doubtless bound to continue.