As Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley seeks to become California’s next attorney general, a dominant issue in the campaign has been his approach to the state’s three-strikes law, with his two Republican opponents in Tuesday’s primary election seeking to cast him as being soft on crime, reports the Los Angeles Times. Cooley defends not pursuing life sentences for relatively minor offenses, saying that justice requires that the punishment should fit the crime. His approach has won widespread support during three successful election campaigns for district attorney but has drawn fire from critics who say his policy fails to protect society from repeat offenders.
One of the clearest examples of the risks is the case of Gilton Pitre, a convicted rapist who in 2007 went on to kill a homeless teenage girl whose body was dumped in an alley. Pitre was found guilty of her murder last month. Two years before the murder, Pitre had been eligible for prosecution under the “three-strikes” law when he was charged with a felony for selling $5 worth of marijuana to an undercover police officer. His two strikes included a 1994 residential burglary and a 1996 rape. Instead of a life term, Pitre was allowed to plead guilty to a drug crime in exchange for a 32-month prison sentence. Cooley strategist Kevin Spillane said Los Angeles County is among the state’s top three counties when it comes to convictions for three-strikes cases. “The reality is that the D.A.’s office is aggressive about pursuing three-strikes cases,” he said. “Tens of thousands of criminals go through the D.A.’s office. It’s always easy to find someone who recommits.”