Stanford University law students are having success in mounting appeals that key on the excessive sentences under California’s three-strikes law. Rather than championing the innocent, the Stanford students are advocating for prisoners guilty of what they view as relatively minor offenses and raising the question of how much prison time is too much. Since its launch in 2006, the Stanford Criminal Defense Clinic has been deluged with letters from inmates and their relatives pleading for help, reports the Los Angeles Times. Since September, students have persuaded judges to reduce the sentences of four prisoners.
More than 8,400 inmates are serving possible life terms under the three-strikes law, according to the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Of those, more than 1,300 were sentenced for drug offenses and nearly 2,500 for property crimes. The Stanford students say the justice system has unfairly ensnared low-level defendants whose crimes are often linked to mental illness, drug abuse or extreme poverty. “These people fall between the cracks,” said Jennifer Robinson, who recently graduated. “It’s an awful situation that I don’t think that the voters envisioned.”