Hidden Impact of California 3 Strikes: Coercing Plea Bargains


Across California, hundreds of criminals convicted of non-serious, non-violent, non-sexual crimes last month were no longer sent to prison under the state’s massive inmate realignment, but this group of “low level” offenders does not include more than 2,200 inmates currently imprisoned for the exact same crimes, says the Monterey Herald. They are serving life sentences under California’s three-strikes law.

It is this incongruity that again has inspired a reform effort aimed at requiring that an offender’s third strike be a serious, violent offense. “Most people don’t realize a petty theft with priors is a third strike and can get you life in prison,” said defense attorney Brian Worthington. Men in Monterey County have been sentenced to 25 years to life for crimes ranging from petty theft to drug possession to second-degree burglary, the same offenses that now qualify others for county jail, probation and rehab programs. What third-strike conviction numbers don’t reflect is how often the mere threat of applying the law — and therefore, a life sentence — is used to coerce plea agreements and prison time in low-level cases that otherwise could have ended with a few years’ probation. That, says Worthington, is the hidden impact of three strikes.

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