Prop 36 aims to change “Three Strikes” law

Since 1994 California’s Three Strikes Law has put thousands of repeat offenders behind bars for life.

imageKelly Turner was sentenced to life in prison after a third strike conviction for check forgery.

The law was designed to stop violent criminals, but over the years it has also ensnared people like Kelly Turner.

Before three strikes, Turner was convicted twice of robbery and resolved to quit serious crime. But in 1997 she was sentenced to life in prison for forging a check at a department store.

“The amount of the check that got me arrested was $146.16,” Turner said, emphasizing that she couldn’t believe that was punishable by life in prison.

After serving 13 years of her life sentence, Turner was released when it was discovered that the court clerk had transcribed the judge incorrectly, thus nullifying the sentencing.

Now, she writes books and does public speaking hoping to educate one-time criminals so that they don’t end up where she did.

She also advocates for changing the Three Strikes Law, in hopes of helping to free hundreds of inmates she met while incarcerated.

“I know who they are on the inside and I know that their criminal behavior is beyond them, is behind them,” Turner said. “They are just not going to do that again.”

Many attempts to repeal or amend Three Strikes have failed when brought to public vote.

But Proposition 36 could change all of that. According to recent polls by Pepperdine University, 75 percent of people say they will vote yes on Nov. 6.

Analysts believe the change in opinion on the law is due to the poor economy and enormous state budget problems suffered in California.

imageProfessor Robert Nash Parker, Presley Center for Crime and Justice Studies, UC Riverside.

“There has been no successful attempts so far to reform it,” said Professor Robert Nash Parker, head of the Presley Center for Crime and Justice Studies at the University of California Riverside. “My hope had been that with the financial pressure, would finally come the recognition that this was not sustainable.”

State estimates show that California could save up to 70-million dollars a year with the proposed changes.

With today’s economic climate and state budget woes, that’s an appealing number.

Prop 36 revises the law to impose life sentences only when a defendant’s third felony is a violent one, freeing around 40 percent of current inmates serving life sentences under the Three Strikes Law.

But supporters of the current system contend that the extra cash isn’t worth having more criminals out on the street.

Additionally, they say that the Three Strikes Law as it currently stands it a major deterrent for potential repeat offenders.

“People got the message that if they committed a new felony they were facing an indeterminate life term,” said Tom Toller, a lead researcher with the California District Attorneys Association, an organization that opposes the Proposition.

The organization’s takes greatest issue with the proposition over the fact that it will take away discretion reserved for prosecutors and judges who decide whether to charge three strikes or not.

As it currently stands, a judge or prosecutor can include or exclude past crimes from individual case sentencing, but Proposition 36 would end that flexibility.

“There are already defendants who have benefited from leniency and the opposite side of that argument is that the ones who have not, clearly judges and district attorneys have felt an indeterminate life sentence was appropriate,“ Toller said.

L.A. County D.A. candidate details views on drugs, Proposition 36, redemption and fair trials

Jackie Lacey answering questions from one of the panelists.

What was planned to be an ideal occasion for voters to further comprehend the differences in both character and position between the two candidates for Los Angeles County district attorney, ended up being a question and answer session between the panelists, the audience and Jackie Lacey, the current Chief Deputy District Attorney and the only candidate that showed up at the forum held at the Bethel A.M.E. Church of Los Angeles.

Hector Villagra, co-host of the event and Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California (ACLU-SC), said that Alan Jackson, the other candidate, did not respond to the invitation. “Nevertheless,” he added, “we have set up an empty chair for him.” Although people laughed at Villagra’s remark, it was evident that they were upset. One of the audience members said that he considered Jackson´s behavior “a lack of respect to the community.”

Despite their annoyance, both panelists and the audience took advantage of the opportunity to better understand Ms. Lacey’s position on issues important to the community. Lacey responded to questions on fair drug enforcement, juvenile justice, conditions in county jails, charging, plea bargaining and sentence reform, as well as alternatives to incarceration for nearly two hours.

One of the first points Lacey made was that she is against the legalization of drugs. “For me, it is personal. I have raised a nephew due to drugs making his parents unavailable,” she said.

Her stance on medical marijuana sales is firm. Lacey says that she will prosecute dispensaries. “Dispensaries attract people that are well. Citizens going to dispensaries are on average under 30 years old. Legalizing them will not cure our drug problems.” On this issue, both Lacey and Alan Jackson stand together.

Crime prevention was another important topic raised by Lacey. “Adults have to get involved in the lives of our children. I want to stop kids from getting in crimes before they have committed them.” For the last four years, Lacey has volunteered one lunch hour a week to teach fifth-graders at Lorena Street Elementary School in Boyle Heights about the criminal justice system.

Lacey, second in command to current District Attorney Steve Cooley, also pointed out that unlike her opponent, she supports Proposition 36. Under the current Three Strikes Law, a person convicted of a felony who has two or more prior convictions for serious or violent felonies is sentenced to 25 years to life, regardless of the nature of the latest crime. To trigger the 25-years-to-life term, Proposition 36 would require that the third strike be serious or violent as well. Jackson opposes Prop 36.

Lacey: “I believe in redemption”

Almost half way through the forum Lacey described herself to the audience in one sentence: “I’m all about going after the bad guy but doing it in a fair and square manner.”

Lacey later went on to say that she believes that people have the ability and the right to reform in life. “I believe in redemption and I think that people can reform. You won´t hear that from the other candidate. I can´t give jobs, but if you sincerely want to change, I can create policies to help you leave that way of life.”

Audience member asking the candidate a question.

Once the forum concluded, Intersections asked Lacey to list the most important differences she had with Jackson. This was her response:

“Unlike my opponent, I have knowledge and experience in running the district attorney’s office. I have experience in implementing alternative sentencing courts. I also have experience with implementing training for lawyers, especially with regard to high tech crime. Finally, I am an accomplished litigator. My opponent minimizes that, but the truth is I have been kicking butt just as much as he has in the sense of keeping our community safe.”

If elected, Lacey will be the first woman, the first African American, and the first person who grew up in South L.A. to becomes District Attorney in Los Angeles County.

Who is Alan Jackson?

Born in 1965, Jackson was raised by a single mother in Texas and served as a jet engine mechanic in the United States Air Force. He left his childhood home after earning his B.A. at the University of Texas, Austin, to pursue his J.D. at Pepperdine Law School in California.

He is a seventeen-year veteran prosecutor in the Los Angeles County District Attorney´s Office, and twice named Prosecutor of the Year. As Assistant Head Deputy of the Major Crimes Division, Jackson manages the office’s elite trial teams while prosecuting his own docket of marquee cases.

Many remember him for a high-profile celebrity case he handled which brought him international attention: the successful murder prosecution in 2009, on retrial, of record-producer Phil Spector.

Although Lacey out-polled Jackson by a slender margin in the June primary election, she did not garner the 51 percent of the votes necessary to automatically win the elections. The run off will be held on November 6.