3 strikes; you're out; maybe


The three strikes law was passed in March 1994 and reaffirmed by voter initiative the following November. It specified mandatory sentences of 25 years to life for three-time losers. Here is some of the rhetoric from emotional debates in the legislature and during the campaign:

We're going to start turning career criminals into career inmates.

If Gov. Wilson really wants to become a profile in courage, he will lead the charge to get a rational dialogue going on this issue.

There is no military solution to the deepening quagmire of crime.
I'm going to vote for these turkeys because my constituents want me to.

It takes people being killed in tragic circumstances to get those elected to office to take these things seriously. I'm offended by it.

If this proposal is approved, I believe the civil judicial system will disappear.

We can't call ourselves leaders.


The Supreme Court last June ruled unanimously that judges have discretion in sentencing three strikes felons. "The disposition of a charge is a judicial responsibility," wrote Justice Kathryn Werdager. The decision produced these comments:

The Supreme Court did the right thing. That's what we pay judges to do, to make that call.

If they (the justices) make bad decisions, they should be voted out. It is one of the worst decisions I have ever seen.

The sound exercise of judicial discretion in appropriate cases is the very hallmark of the system of individualized justice.

Three strikes was a message from the people of California to the worst of the worst criminals that if you commit a crime, you go to jail for up to 25 years.

A very traditional theme of conventional sentencing law. Judges must have some discretionary power to do justice.

Judges cannot impose lighter sentences or disregard a defendant's prior felony conviction on a whim.

I'm very concerned that what criminals can read into this is that they can somehow squirm their way out in front of soft-on-crime judges.

If you think the judges of the state of California are without courage and interested in coddling criminals, you're nuts.

The public wants laws that are harsh when it comes to repeat felons and career criminals. I think this opinion will go a long way toward reducing the effectiveness of the three strikes law.

I think it's always a danger to limit judicial discretion.

All the effort to remove crime in this state has been set back.

I don't think the Supreme Court ruling is going to make one bit of difference.

The court changed three strikes and you're out to three strikes and maybe you're out. Like most people who supported three strikes, I was frustrated.

Frankly, it's a very conservative decision by a very conservative court.

This particular decision will make sure trial judges work to see that justice is done.


In the wake of the Supreme Court decision, the Assembly overwhelmingly passed legislation which allows judges some leniency but mandates a third strike if the felonies were violent and relatively recent. However, the bill is now stalled in the Senate, amid angry charges and countercharges:

Today's decision to reject a well-crafted correction to the three strikes law demonstrates the Senate Criminal Procedure Committee's contempt for many Californians who live in fear of crime in their own homes.

This bill is unnecessary. We need more thoughtful analysis, not a rushed, panicky reaction designed to grab tough guy headlines.

Democrats controlling the Senate undoubtedly are more concerned with the well-being of rapists, murderers and child molesters than they are with their victims.

Petty thefts should not be part of three strikes.

(The bill) violates fundamental tenets of the administration of justice . . . I am persuaded more by the judges than I am by the district attorneys or prosecutors.

We worked so hard to get here. We cannot just stand by and let this law be weakened.

I've had a large number of jurors say to me, 'Judge, I can be fair, but is this a three-strikes case?'