Under District Attorney Steve Cooley, Los Angeles prosecutors seek life sentences in “three strikes” cases only if the third-strike crime is violent or serious, says the New York Times. Petty thieves and most drug offenders are presumed to merit a double sentence, the penalty for a second strike, unless their previous record includes a hard-core crime like murder, armed robbery, sexual assault or possession of large quantities of drugs. During Cooley's first year in office, three-strikes convictions in Los Angeles County triggering life sentences dropped 39 percent.
Cooley could once again pay a price for his three-strikes record. This spring, he announced his candidacy for California attorney general. His Republican rivals have hammered him for his moderate stance. “He's acting as an enabler for habitual offenders,” says State Senator Tom Harman. “I think that's wrong. I want to put them in prison.” The race has developed into a litmus test: for 15 years, no serious candidate for major statewide office has dared to criticize three strikes, says the Times. If Cooley makes it through his party's primary on June 8 – and especially if he goes on to win in November – the law no longer will seem untouchable. If he loses, three strikes will be all the more difficult to dislodge.