Friday, November 9, 2012

Three Strikes -- 3,000 Offenders

In the wake of California's passage of Proposition 36, which reforms the state's infamous three strikes law, there are potentially up to 3,000 California state prisoners who could be eligible for fairer sentences and release.  The releases won't be the end of civilization as we know it, or fill the streets with violent offenders, as described in this Los Angeles Times article:
A day after California voted to soften its three-strikes sentencing law, defense lawyers around the state Wednesday prepared to seek reduced punishments for thousands of offenders serving up to life in prison for relatively minor crimes.
The process of asking courts to revisit old sentences could take as long as two years and benefit roughly 3,000 prisoners. They represent about a third of incarcerated third-strikers.
Proposition 36 garnered about 69% of the vote. The initiative won in all 58 counties, amending one of the nation's toughest three-strikes laws, one that had overwhelming voter support when it was approved in 1994 amid heightened anxiety over violent crime.
"People want a fair and just criminal justice system," said Michael Romano, who helped write the proposition and runs a Stanford Law School project that represents inmates convicted of minor third strikes. "The passage of Proposition 36, especially by its margin, has given some hope … to people behind bars who have been forsaken by their families and society."
Courts can reject a request to reduce a sentence if they determine the prisoner is a danger to public safety. Inmates with prior convictions for rape, murder and child molestation cannot be released under the measure.
"This is not going to open the prison floodgates," said Garrick Byers, a senior attorney with the Fresno County public defender's office.
Nothing better shows the need for retroactivity of the California three strikes reforms than the stories of state prisoners and families serving those sentences:
Cashier Debbie Curry woke up Wednesday to find California voters had given her a priceless gift: hope. ...
Curry's husband, Charles Airy, has been locked up in Vacaville on a life sentence since 2001 for drug possession. His previous two strikes were for nonviolent burglaries back in the 1960s and 70s, she said.
"Oh my God, I'm just so elated and grateful,'' Curry said. "It's not just my husband who has been incarcerated. I've been incarcerated, waiting for him.''
She's not the only one who envisions a new life for her family. Alberta Manzanares' brother has served 17 years of a life sentence for stealing a credit card in Santa Clara County. His previous strikes also were burglaries, she said.
"Oh my God, when I heard it on the news, I was like, crying,'' said Manzanares. "He might be coming home.''
If you have an incarcerated loved one in a California state prison who you think might benefit from Proposition 36, you should contact a criminal defense attorney in California.  While FAMM applauds the reforms and is thrilled that they are retroactive, we are unable to provide people with legal advice, representation, or referrals to attorneys.