In 2004, Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley was part of a powerful coalition that helped defeat a measure that would have relaxed California’s three-strikes sentencing law. Now, says the San Diego Union-Tribune, the Republican prosecutor has broken with his colleagues by leading an effort to liberalize the law, the nation’s toughest. Cooley has joined Brian Dunn, an attorney from the late Johnnie Cochran’s law firm, to promote a measure for the November ballot. Under current law, a person with two felonies for violent or serious crimes faces a sentence of 25 years to life for any third felony.
The latest proposal to ease the law would require a third strike to be a violent or serious felony, unless a defendant had a previous conviction for murder, rape, child molestation, or any felony punishable by life imprisonment. Cooley is violating an unwritten rule of California politics, which dictates that elected officials – especially those in law enforcement – avoid any stance that an opponent could possibly label soft on crime. So far, Cooley stands alone among prosecutors. Directors of the California District Attorneys Association have voted unanimously to oppose the measure. “Three strikes is working the way it is,” said San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis. Says Cooley: “This proposal is going against the grain of the majority of the rest of the elected DA’s, but it’s not going against the grain of the majority of the public.”