SACRAMENTO - Paving the way to give leniency to some of California's most dangerous criminals, Democrats in the Assembly today passed Assembly Bill 327, which would water down California's Three Strikes law, the tough-on-crime measure that was passed by the state's voters in 1994.
"It's outrageous that Democrats used California's budget problems as an excuse to chip away at a critical measure that has lowered crime rates significantly since its implementation," said Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway, of Tulare. "The measure they passed today is not about showing compassion or saving money, but coddling career criminals and giving them another chance to victimize innocent Californians."
Assembly Bill 327, by Assemblymember Mike Davis, D-Los Angeles, would water down Three Strikes by requiring that in order for its 25 years to life imprisonment penalty to apply, the three felony offenses must be, in most cases, classified as "serious" or "violent" by the state. This measure would only take effect if California's voters approve it in the November 2014 general election. In 2004, California voters rejected Proposition 66, which would have weakened California's Three Strikes law in a manner similar to Assembly Bill 327.
Assembly Republicans pointed out that California's complicated laws do not easily capture what is a serious or violent crime. Hundreds of felonies, such as human trafficking and solicitation to commit murder are not considered serious or violent crimes. In addition, the current Three Strikes law requires the first two convictions to be not just felonies, but serious or violent felonies, that are the "worst of the worst" crimes. The third strike still requires a felony conviction in order to hand down a "25 to Life" sentence.
After Three Strikes became law in 1994, violent and property crime went down significantly even as California's population soared. It has saved taxpayers $54 billion through the reduction of crimes such as murders, rapes and robberies. Contrary to what some have claimed, our prisons are not overflowing with third-strike convicts. As of September 11, 2011, the state reported that there were only 8,813 third-strikers in California's prisons out of a total of 135,000 inmates.
"Let's be clear - no one is spending the rest of their lives in jail because they stole a loaf of bread or smoked pot," said Assemblyman Steve Knight, Vice Chair of the Assembly Committee on Public Safety. "As a former police officer, I know first-hand that Three Strikes require the first two convictions to be exceptionally serious crimes that would disturb any fair-minded person. Prosecutors and judges already have the discretion to spare criminals from the toughest penalties if circumstances warrant. This bill is dangerous and we need to show our compassion to those who need it most - the crime victims and their families."
AB 327 was approved during today's Assembly floor session on a party-line vote, with only Democrats voting in support of the measure. The measure now goes to the State Senate for its consideration.