Houman Fakhimi

Prop. 36 Passes, Eases California's Three Strikes Law

Thousands of inmates who were sentenced to long prison sentences under California's harsh Three Strikes Law are now eligible to petition for shortened sentences and, in some cases, their release.

The passage of Proposition 36 eases those long sentences for individuals whose last convicted crime was neither serious nor violent.

Rancho Cucamonga Criminal Defense Lawyer Houman Fakhimi stands ready to help.

For those who may not be familiar, the Three Strikes Law in California is one of the nation's most severe. It's essentially a sentencing scheme that adds significant time to the prison sentence of an individual convicted of serious or violent offenses. Legislative and voter initiatives, in response to the crime wave happening at the time, passed the measure, which was amended in 2000 and again in 2006 in order to add to the list of qualifying crimes. Prior to the passage of Proposition 36 (by nearly 70 percent of the vote), almost any prior felony could be considered "serious," even if it wasn't violent.

Consequently, some defendants were given absurdly long, life sentences for crimes like possession of a controlled substance or receiving stolen property.

What Proposition 36 does is make it so that you can only receive that 25 years-to-life sentence if all three of your convictions were either serious or violent felonies, rather than just the first two.

As of last year, we know there were approximately 32,000 second strikers in the state of California and roughly 9,000 third strikers serving time in state prisons. About 3,000 people total may be eligible for a sentence reduction under Proposition 36.

(As a side note, we know that those who received Third Strike sentences were disproportionately minority, namely, African Americans and Hispanics.)

The serious and violent felonies under the Third Strikes Law include:

  • Murder or voluntary manslaughter;
  • Mayhem;
  • Rape;
  • Forcible sodomy;
  • Forcible oral copulation;
  • Lewd or lascivious act on a child under the age of 14;
  • Attempted murder;
  • Assault with intent to commit robbery or rape;
  • Assault with a deadly weapon;
  • Any felony that results in great bodily injury on a victim or accomplice or in which a firearm was used;
  • Assault by a life-prisoner on a non-inmate;
  • Assault with a deadly weapon by an inmate;
  • Assault with a deadly weapon on a peace officer;
  • Arson;
  • First-degree burglary;
  • Kidnapping;
  • Robbery;
  • Holding a hostage;
  • Selling heroin, cocaine or methamphetamine to a minor;
  • Grand theft of a firearm;
  • A criminal street gang felony;
  • Discharge of a firearm into an inhabited dwelling;
  • Criminal threats;
  • Intimidation of victims or witnesses.

If someone had two prior convictions for any combination, a third conviction for even a non-violent felony could result in a ridiculously long sentence, which clearly didn't match the crime.

The new law's changes aren't going to affect people whose most recent crime was for something like rape, murder or child molestation. In order to qualify for an early release, those convicted under the law will have to prove to a judge that they aren't going to be an unreasonable risk to public safety.

There are a few other exceptions, as well. If your third offense involved a firearm or was a sexually violent offense or somehow resulted in great bodily injury to another person, you probably aren't going to be released.

Even prosecutors in some areas, including Los Angeles, backed the measure, saying it would reduce prison overcrowding and save the state millions of dollars.

Some opponents of Proposition 36 have said that prosecutors and judges already have the authority to spare third-strikers the maximum sentence. The problem is, they often don't.

That was why we kept seeing these awful stories of men going to prison for life for things like stealing a few videos or evading police.

Contact Houman Fakhimi trial attorney at (714) 705-6701 as soon as possible if you are arrested in Rancho Cucamonga.