Though California is synonymous with three strikes and you’re out sentencing laws, Texas has had some form of repeat offender law since 1856. Until 1973, the law read simply, “Any person who shall have been three times convicted of a felony, less than capital, shall, on such third conviction, be imprisoned to hard labor for life in the penitentiary.” Larry Dayries is serving a 70-year term, with one of his offenses being the theft of a sandwich from a Whole Foods store in 2010, the Texas Observer reports. A security guard said he pulled a knife while escaping, which Dayries denies.
Until recently, California was the poster child for the kind of extreme sentencing that led to Dayries’ 70-year term. Under California’s notorious three-strikes law, introduced in the mid-’90s amid a violent crime epidemic, a defendant convicted of a felony who had two or more prior felonies would automatically receive 25 years to life. By 1997, 24 other states and the federal government followed suit, as politicians of both major parties saw the political value in tough-on-crime laws. Only in the last few years has the draconian logic of three strikes started to unravel. Criminal justice reformers, including many conservatives, have come to see three strikes as ineffective and costly; evidence of its impact on crime rates is scant. The Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think-tank that supports sentencing reform from an economic standpoint, suggests legislators consider whether sentence enhancements actually deter criminal conduct and if there are alternatives.