Washington State Rethinks Some Three-Strikes Terms

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Some Washington state prosecutors are questioning three-strikes life sentences, dealing with a legacy that some believe violate what Snohomish County Prosecutor Adam Cornell calls “an evolving standard of decency,” the Seattle Times reports. The state Supreme Court is scheduled this week to discuss whether it will review a case that could free dozens of three-strikes prisoners. Washington’s 1993 three-strikes law, the nation’s first and an embodiment of the tough-on-crime era, was designed to ensure “persistent offenders” would never be free to commit more crimes. Judges are required to hand down life sentences to repeat offenders of a wide array of crimes, from murder and rape to robbery and assault. Black people, four percent of the state’s population, account for 38 percent of the 289 three-strikes prisoners.

Clark County prosecutor Camara Banfield said her office now thinks carefully before it prosecutes a case that will trigger the three-strikes law. “People are really considering … what is the harm that great that you actually should take someone’s liberty away for the rest of their life?” Legislators passed a law effective last June that allows prosecutors to seek resentencing when an original sentence “no longer advances the interests of justice.” Prosecutors around the state don’t agree on whether the resentencing law should apply to three-strikes cases. Chairman Rep. Roger Goodman of the House Public Safety Committee worries about “justice by geography.” Yakima County Prosecutor Joe Brusic opposes using the new law to get three-strikers out of prison. “They put themselves there. No one else,” he said. Elected officials until recently have tended toward the same judgment. At least 29 states eased mandatory penalties by 2014, says the Vera Institute of Justice. John Carlson, the conservative talk-radio host who co-sponsored the 1993 three-strikes initiative, said he will propose an even tougher three-strikes initiative should legislators weaken the existing law.

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