COMMENTARY BY CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY SAM SPITAL:
“In Wednesday’s November 7, 2012 NBC Channel 7 news online, the result of the election regarding Proposition 36 was announced in which the California voters agreed the 1994 three strikes law should be modified. The measure changed the law that has allowed sentences for third time offenders even if the third offense was not a violent felony, such as a residential burglary. In short, any third felony could previously be used as a basis for life imprisonment. Now, life sentences without parole can only be imposed if the third criminal conviction is deemed ‘serious and violent’ or in cases regardless of the minor nature of the felony if the offender previously committed murder, rape or was a child molester.
Everyone knows the State of California is facing near bankruptcy with deficits of billions of dollars. In addition, there is a federal court Order requiring the state prisons to reduce their population, resulting in the transfer of huge numbers of inmates to local county jails. The proponents of Proposition 36 used the overcrowding as one of their arguments against sentences for life in prison without parole. It seems the pendulum has shifted from protecting the public from habitual criminals to focus on the escalating costs of our penal system.
As a result, there are about 3,000 inmates serving life sentences who will be able to petition the court for an early release from State Prison or obtain a shorter term. Opponents fear crime will increase since habitual offenders will no longer be locked up after their third felony. Clearly, the Superior Court Judge had the discretion to strike one of the previous strikes (‘strike a strike’) if he did not feel life imprisonment would be appropriate, and that indeed has been my personal experience as a San Diego criminal defense lawyer. Only time will tell if the scourge of felony crimes will increase.”
SAM SPITAL, LAWYER