Rethinking California’s ‘three-strikes’ law

Susannah Karlsson and Mike Romano of Stanford's Three Str... Retired Judge Howard Broadman supports Shane Taylor's app... In this photo taken Dec. 3, 2010, Stanford law student Su...

Seventeen years after California’s “three strikes” law was sold to the public as a way to keep rapists, child molesters and murderers behind bars, some criminal justice experts are pushing for an overhaul of the sentencing mandate they say is long overdue.

They say the law has driven up incarceration costs by billions, contributed to California’s prison crowding and resulted in harsh sentences that did not fit the crimes or circumstances.

To these critics, 42-year-old Shane Taylor represents everything that is wrong with three strikes.

At age 27, Taylor was drinking beer with friends in a car parked at a lookout spot in Tulare County when police pulled up to see if anyone was underage. An officer noticed a small bag poking out of Taylor’s wallet that contained methamphetamine, about a tenth of a sugar packet’s worth.

Had Taylor’s record been clean, he might have landed in county jail for a few years. But combined with two prior convictions for burglaries he committed at age 19, Taylor received the most severe punishment under the state’s three-strikes law: 25 years to life.

Now, 15 years after Taylor was locked up at the Correctional Training Facility in Soledad, the prosecuting attorney and sentencing judge say the punishment was too harsh.

“I made a mistake,” retired Tulare County Judge Howard Broadman said in a recent phone interview. “It’s too much time.”

An appeal of Taylor’s sentence is pending with the California Supreme Court. The appeal was filed after Broadman called a Stanford University professor who specializes in three-strikes cases and expressed remorse, saying he would not have handed down the long prison term had he better understood the three-strikes law, which had been in effect just two years.

“This guy should not be in prison this long,” Broadman said. “It bothered me that (he was) such a low-level offender. … When you are in a position of authority I was in at the time, you can make mistakes and it costs the state too much money, and it costs the offender and their family. It’s wrong.”

Taylor’s lawyers say their client’s story is not rare, and that the sentencing mandate has led to numerous other troubling cases.

They and other critics say it’s time to change the law, particularly because California faces chronic deficits and a court order to reduce its prison population by 33,000 over the next two years.

Continue Reading @ SF Gate


2 thoughts on “Rethinking California’s ‘three-strikes’ law

  1. first of all, “they” are not considering letting out murderers and drug dealers; the correct terminology would be ‘low level offenders’- and murder is NOT a low level offense. Many like to claim that sex offenders do not repeat their crimes- I use John Gardner as an example…he was released- a convicted sex offender, and went on to become a sex offender/murderer. There are many claims about sex offenders-and in my opinion, anyone that harms a child in an adult way, should be locked up-period. I am not talking about an 18 yo who has sex with his 17 yo girlfriend or some one peeing in public….Im talking about the John Gardners and Phil Garrido’s….sorry but they DO reoffend, time and time again. Now you take some one who has been in prison 25 or more years for manslaughter or murder 2, they are least likely to reoffend…these LIFERS are the ones that should be getting out…most are elderly, sick and are least likely to reoffend. The young gangbangers who are on the revolving door plan are the ones that have been getting out, and will soon be back in. IMO the LIFERS are the ones with no risk to public safety and should therefor be released. Three strikes is a much different ball game here, the law MUST be revamped- it was poorly written from the get go and the law totally misapplied in so many cases……


  2. Why is it that they are considering letting out murderers and drug dealers from crowded prisons and not focusing on the lesser crimes? A murderer takes away a life and gets 10 years or out early and will most likely repeat their crime and be brought back in., The same with drug dealers yet sex crimes are all treated the same regardless the circumstances. They get life in prison. The murders are the ones that should be getting life.They are letting out ones that are a primary risk of repeating their crimes and a threat to society. Most sex offenders are not repeat offenders and are not violent and do not need prison, just counseling which they don’t get. It’s the select few that make it on the news that are violent that ruin it for others. And with the 3 strikes law why do they have to dig up someones past crime of 30 years and use it against them when that crime was not relevant to the case or not even repeated?


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