For those who may be unfamiliar, there are currently 26 states, including California, that have adopted the Three Strikes and You Are Out law. California first adopted this sentencing provision in 1994 as an effort to reduce the number of felony convictions per person by imposing significant sentencing consequences for each felony conviction up to three.
On November 6, 2012, some 18 years later, California proposed an amendment to the law which became known as Proposition 36 to California voters. The proposition was passed and amended the original legislation in two ways:
- Requirements for sentencing of a third strike offender was now set to 25 years to life if the offender was convicted of a violent felony with two or more previous strikes; and
- The allowance of those offenders already serving a third strike sentence to petition the court for a reduction of this sentence down to a second strike eligibility.
As violent crime is on the rise across the United States one may believe that the Three Strikes and You Are Out law is necessary but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) remains in disagreement.
The ACLU finds issue with the reality of imposing life sentences as a determent to repetitive crime as our penal system houses over one million inhabitants depleting state budgets and over-taxing the American citizen. Although the Three Strikes law remains popular with state legislators, Congress and the President himself, the ACLU believes the law fails the system for the following oppositional reasons:
- Same law different day: The 1987 Federal Sentencing Guidelines already imposes stiff penalties for repeat offenders. According to the ACLU, the Three Strikes law appears to be overkill.
- Violent crime continues to rise: As violent crimes are necessarily not a premeditated act, an offender who is acting impulsively is not thinking of the consequences or their actions at the time of instance.
- Liability for law enforcement: Imagine a law enforcement officer trying to arrest an already convicted felon who is facing his or her “third strike”? Assaults on law enforcement and corrections officers could result in increased assaults and altercations.
- Criminal court backlog: The courts, already overtaxed by the U.S. War on Drugs, will present an additional burden on the system as well as those who function within the system. Criminals facing a life sentence will try any legal avenue available resulting in costly and time-consuming maneuvers.
- The judge’s hands are tied: With the current Three Strike and You Are Out law, the third strike evokes a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole, thus eliminating judicial discretion during the sentencing process of each individual. This may also decrease any hope of reform for the offender.
These are the top five opposition reasons presented by the ACLU to the Three Strikes and You Are Out law. The following five opposition points rounds out their top 10.
- The cost of imprisonment on the U.S. taxpayer;
- Racial bias for the minority offender;
- Not all convictions fit the profile of a violent repeat felony;
- Vague description of types of crime under the ruling; and
- Lack of solutions to prevent violent crime.
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