When California voters overwhelmingly approved changes to the state’s tough “three strikes and you’re out” law in November, 150 inmates in Santa Clara County who had faced the prospect of dying of old age behind bars suddenly found themselves eligible for reduced sentences and freedom, says the San Francisco Chronicle. Of Bay Area counties, Santa Clara County had by far the most inmates become eligible for more lenient terms because their most recent convictions were for offenses that weren’t serious or violent. San Francisco had three.
It’s an indication that the three strikes law that voters approved in 1994 hasn’t been enforced evenly among counties. In some places, defendants whose third strikes were minor – in extreme examples, for stealing a bicycle or even a pizza – were more likely to have the book thrown at them. “Too many people were prosecuted unfairly under the former three strikes law in Santa Clara County, and had those same people committed the same crime in other jurisdictions, they would not have received life sentences,” said Molly O’Neal, acting public defender in Santa Clara County. The November initiative, Proposition 36, changed the three strikes law by limiting the third strike – and the 25-years-to-life penalty – to serious or violent crimes.