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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

... And You're Out (Finally)

The L.A. Times reported today that a man who was sentenced to life in prison for entering a church to steal food as a "third strike" should be released from prison after a mere eight years. Even D.A. (and California attorney general candidate) Steve Cooley apparently claimed some credit for this, having cited it as one of the reasons for his policy not to seek a third strike conviction where the underlying crime is so minor.

His policy, by the way, results in another injustice, almost as egregious as the disproportionate life sentence of the three strikes law. By "striking a strike" on condition that the defendant plead guilty, the D. A. assures denial of a fair trial and a still outrageous sentence -- double the sentence that would have been given without a strike and a requirement to serve 85% (rather than 50%) of the stated prison sentence. Thus, a defendent committing a petty non-violent crime might still serve many years in prison.

The three strikes law, like many changes in criminal procedures over the past twenty years, is the product of the Initiative Process, based on propositions written as a wish list of District Attorney associations allied with so-called victims rights groups. Most of these laws take discretion away from judges and juries and give it to prosecutors. This increase in power has resulted in a corrupt, complacent, political, dictatorial prosecutor-driven justice system.

The cost to the society of these mistakes will be incalculable, but you can start by counting all the wasted money spent to incarcerate non-violent prisoners for many years.


  1. Good post, but the target of your gripe should be primarily directed at law makers, victims rights groups, and the voters for passing the 3 strikes laws. Cooley's policy may have the intended result of getting more convictions/pleas on cases in exchange for a "strike of a strike," but the policy also remains in effect the next time the offender commits a nonviolent/non-serious offense. The policy says that Mr. Defendant with 2 strikes who picks up petty after petty after petty still wont get 25-life. Sure, he'll plea to petty after petty after petty, but he wont get 25-life.

    Sorry, guess I still have a soft spot for prosecutors. The problem is the law though, not those who enforce it. Dont hate the player, hate the game.

  2. Jake,
    My complaint is not against all prosecutors. Please see this post: "DA's I Know And Love" (
    But with the enormous power comes equal responsibity - more even than owed by defense lawyers. DA's with guts to do the right thing against the policies of their office are rare, punished for appearing to be lenient, while arrogant toughness is rewarded no matter how wrong.

  3. I can't believe that someone can be sentenced to life in prison for that...

    I remember that, when the 3-strike law went into effect, it seemed like a good idea, because what was emphasized in the media then concerned violent crime. I didn't know that the law works across the board, not distinguishing between types of crimes. Maybe I don't remember it correctly, not sure.

  4. Rina Your confusion is a good example of what is wrong with the Initiative process. Such laws are passed by a majority of voters who are misled, misinformed, manipulated by titles like "victim's bill of rights" and "Anti-terrorism Act". None are vetted by responsible knowledgeable experts in the field. The result is the opposite of "reform", rather laws that "deform" our system - probably irrevocably considering the timidity and intellectual dishonesty of our Supreme Courts - state and federal. Individual rights and liberties once lost are rarely recovered.