The Supreme Court ruling last week requiring California to cut its prison population by more than 33,000 inmates within two years could boost efforts to modify or repeal the state's three-strikes law, which critics say keeps nonviolent offenders in prison for far too long, says the San Diego Union-Tribune. The law, approved by voters and the state legislature in 1994, significantly increased prison terms for repeat offenders with previous convictions for violent or serious felonies, putting some behind bars for life.
Opponents long have argued that the law is overly harsh and keeps people in prison decades after they stop being dangerous — because of age, medical problems, or both — exacerbating prison overcrowding. A main argument against the law has been that a person with two strikes can be sentenced to 25 years to life for a nonviolent offense, such as petty theft. “We overincarcerate in California, and this U.S. Supreme Court decision is an impetus to change that,” said Dean Erwin Chemerinsky of the University of California Irvine Law School. Families to Amend California's Three-Strikes has talked about getting a measure on the 2012 ballot to modify the law. Such an effort requires money and it's not clear where that might come from. Any measure to repeal or revise the three-strikes law is likely to be met with resistance. “No elected official wants to touch it,” said Paul Pfingst, San Diego County district attorney from 1994 to 2002 and now a criminal defense lawyer.