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An argument against the californias three strikes criminal law

Enlarge this image Erwin Chemerinsky, attorney for Leandro Andrade, chats with reporters outside the Supreme Court in 2002.

Under the three strikes law, Andrade was put away for 50 years to life after stealing videotapes from two different Kmart stores. Chemerinsky challenged the case, and it went all the way to the Supreme Court. A third strike carries a sentence of 25 years to life and that sentence can be imposed for any felony, not just a violent one. Some people have challenged the law — but the results have been mixed.

Now, Andrade had had his run-ins with the law. He was a drug addict, and he had committed some residential burglaries years before.

So when he stole those videos, it was a third strike, which could mean 25 years to life in prison. But because Andrade grabbed the videos from two different Kmarts, he was prosecuted for two third strikes. As a result, says Chemerinsky, Andrade was sentenced to life in prison with no parole for 50 years. But the Supreme Court overturned that ruling on a 5-to-4 vote. The majority found that Andrade's sentence was not disproportionate because there was still the possibility of parole — though he won't be eligible until he's 87 years old.

The Stanford Clinic "There's no question it was a setback; the result was very unfortunate," says Stanford Law professor Lawrence Marshall. Marshall has established a clinic where Stanford law students work to win the release of nonviolent third strikers. So far, they have persuaded state courts to release five men from prison.

The Stanford clinic takes very few cases and the staff picks them very carefully. They haven't represented anyone whose previous strikes included a violent crime, and the third strikes are always for minor offenses. Marshall wants to show the public what he views as the irrationality of the law.

He cites an example. Crime Statistics In California "You've stolen some socks from a store — and that's a real case of ours — that were valued at a few dollars," he says. But three strikes has become so entrenched in California's criminal justice system that the political will to change it just isn't there, according to Mike Vitello, a law professor at the University of the Pacific and an expert on the three strikes law.

And I think the Republicans are totally cynical. They are waiting for the day when the Democrats are able to get some kind of sentencing reform. And then if anything goes wrong, they will accuse the Democrats of being soft on crime.

Isaac Ramirez has been out of prison for seven years. He now works full-time at his church in Riverside County, east of Los Angeles, where he's a lay pastor and in charge of facilities. He walked out with it in broad daylight.

Debate: Three strikes law

He got caught, handed over the merchandise and admitted having done something "stupid. He knew that was going to matter.

Cases Show Disparity Of California's 3 Strikes Law

He never dreamed how much. I mean, I've never hurt anybody. But I still broke the law and I understood I was gonna do some time. How much, I didn't know. Isaac Ramirez "I mean, I've never hurt anybody.

But I still broke the law and I understood I was gonna do some time," he says. While Ramirez was in prison, he rediscovered the faith of his childhood. But in 2002, a federal court finally ordered him released from prison.

  1. Marshall has established a clinic where Stanford law students work to win the release of nonviolent third strikers. In some counties, for example, prosecutors seek Three Strikes enhancements only in certain cases, such as for certain types of crimes that are particular problems in their county or where the current offense is serious or violent.
  2. Specifically, the department has developed second striker caseloads where parole agents specialize in supervising these parolees on reduced caseloads. In addition, variation in the application of Three Strikes not only exists across counties, but can also occur within counties.
  3. Once third strikers become eligible for parole consideration, this will likely create significant additional workload and require additional resources for the board.
  4. Isaac Ramirez has been out of prison for seven years.
  5. The aging of the prison population over the past decade has the potential for significant fiscal consequences. As regards prison construction costs, the state has not built any new prisons specifically for striker inmates.

He reunited with his family and began working at his church. Then, it was the state's turn to appeal and argue that he belonged back behind bars.

A Primer: Three Strikes - The Impact After More Than a Decade

Ramirez didn't have money for a lawyer, but he decided he didn't need one. So, Ramirez presented his own case before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. I couldn't keep them away. Just a few months earlier, though, the Supreme Court had shot down that argument in the Andrade case. Ramirez, however, stuck to it. He claimed he was more deserving than Andrade. Judge Andrew Kleinfeld didn't figure it out till the end of the hearing. But you've done a fine job for yourself," Kleinfeld said.

Ramirez did such a fine job, he won his case and remains a free man.

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He says that when he was in prison, he met a lot of men who really did belong there. In fact, everybody NPR spoke to for this story thinks there needs to be a three strikes law, that some people should be put away for a long time — if not forever. The federal appeals court decided Ramirez wasn't one of those. But he so easily could have been.