Sam Clauder II pushed hard for California's
three strikes law. As a paid consultant, he collected 12,000
signatures for the 1994 initiative. He donated money to it. And he
urged everyone he knew to vote for it.
But some eight years after its enactment, Clauder
is now working even harder - for free this time -to restrict the
"After a couple of years, I could see it was a
big mistake," said Clauder, the political director of Citizens
Against Violent Crime (CAVC). "It was putting petty criminals in
prison for life."
Clauder's solution is CAVC's proposed
"Three Strikes Act of 2002," which would require all three strikes
to be violent felonies. (Under current law, a defendant faces 25 years
to life in prison for any felony conviction if he or she already has
two serious or violent felonies that qualify as strikes.) The
initiative would also entitle certain defendants to a resentencing
hearing within 180 days.
Aiming for the November ballot, CAVC is
scrambling to collect some 700,000 signatures for the initiative by
April, Clauder says. "Our intent is merely to restore balance to the
justice system," he said.
Assemblymember Jackie Gold-berg (D-Los Angeles),
too, is seeking a change. Her recently announced three strikes measure
- Assembly Bill 1790 - would limit the law's reach to serious
and violent felonies. And while resentencing would not be automatic,
three-strikes inmates imprisoned for nonviolent offenses could
petition the court for a hearing. In addition, prosecutors would be
allowed to re-file any charges that were dropped, "pled down" or
simply not filed in the defendant's original three
Proponents of the current law, however, argue
that judges and prosecutors already have the discretion to overlook a
defendant's strikes in the interest of justice. And Attorney General
Bill Lockyer, among others, insists that such discretion is important.
Secretary of State Bill Jones, who authored the
three strikes law in 1994, opposes the latest proposed amendments,
particularly any re-sentencing provision that could allow prisoners
with violent histories to get out of prison sooner. He points out that
California's crime rate has dropped 41 percent - a greater
reduction than in any other state - since the current law's
"There is no reason to wait for another woman
to be raped or another child to be molested before taking criminals
with a history of serious and violent crime off the streets," he
said in a recent statement.
Lawrence Brown, executive director of the
California District Attorneys Association, stresses that an effective
habitual offender statute is designed to look at the offender as well
as the offense. "There are clearly times when a life sentence is
warranted even if the new offense is nonviolent," he said. "There
has not been a compelling case made to weaken what has been a highly
Those pushing for change disagree. Some critics
of the current law suggest it is not responsible for the drop in crime
and ask why New York, which has no such law, has seen a crime drop
similar to that found in California. Some question the high cost to
taxpayers of housing three strikes inmates convicted of non-serious,
nonviolent crimes. And some question the morality - as well as the
constitutionality - of locking up shoplifters for life.
Clauder, however, says he still supports a three
strikes law as long as it applies solely to violent felonies. And he
believes the public has swung to his side. A recent survey, conducted
by Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin & Associates and co-sponsored by CAVC,
suggested that while most Californians support a three strikes law,
nearly two out of three support an amendment that would apply the law
only to violent felonies.
California three strikes initiative is going to be changed,"
Goldberg said recently, announcing her legislative proposal. "We can
spend a fortune changing it one lawsuit at a time, or the state
legislature, with a majority of California voters, can make sure a
person isn't sentenced to life in prison for stealing a few