Los Angeles Criminal Law Blog

Three Strikes Laws: 14 Years and Counting

Posted on: August 15, 2008 at 2:26 p.m.

Three strikes laws are statutes enacted by state governments in the United States which require the state courts to hand down a mandatory and extended period of incarceration to persons who have been convicted of a serious criminal offense on three or more separate occasions. While the three strikes laws were designed to be a deterrent to criminals, the general trend of crime in America is the same in states without three strikes statutes as they are in states with them.

The increased incarcerations have filled California's prisons to the brim. As of 2007, the system holds over 170,000 prisoners in custody in a system designed for 83,000, and most California prisons currently hold populations more than double their design capacity.

In fact, the constant protest regarding Three Strikes Law doesn't just come from activists and alleged criminals. Hon. Jesse W. Curtis, who passed away on August 5, was a judge for 40 years in the U.S. District Court for Central California before stepping down over the rigid Three Strikes sentencing guidelines. It has been proven that the three strikes laws are not deterrents to crime at all, since as many as 70% of those sent to prison, once released, will recycle back within three years. Obviously there is a disconnect.

Another flaw in the Three Strikes system is how violent and non-violent offenders are treated with the same set of laws. Thieves and rapists face the same punishment. Even crimes that may fall under the same umbrella are prosecuted in the same manner, for example:
- Michael James is serving 25 years to life under the three-strikes law for passing a bad check for $94.
- Michael Schneider is serving 28 years for stealing $43 million from 57 investors.
- Santos Reyes, George Anderson, Linda Susan Teague, Gary Ewing and Leandro Andrade are serving a total of 176 years, and the most serious criminal among them is Ewing. He stole three golf clubs.

Bias in the courts can lead to other serious violations of justice. Recently, a man who was convicted of stabbing and wounding his mother in a 1998 trial and sentenced to 30 years to life in prison under the three-strikes law because of previous felony convictions, was granted a new trial by a federal appeals court, which said the prosecutor removed at least one black juror for racial reasons. How many other prisoners are serving decades long prison sentences because they stole two pizzas, were at the wrong place at the wrong time or simply had a skin color that was too dark?

If you or someone you know is facing a Three Strikes violation, contact the attorneys at Kestenbaum, Eisner & Gorin, LLP.

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