California Voters Reevaluate Sentencing Laws

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It's been over two decades since California voted to enact mandatory minimum sentences for all "third strike" offenders. The three-strikes law was the toughest in the nation, demanding 25 year to life sentences for all third-time felony offenders, even if the third offense with minor or non-violent. A few years back, California voters decided to amend the statute so that only third strike offenders who committed a violent offense would face the mandatory minimum sentence of 25-to-life.

California's three strikes law led to the highest incarceration rates in the nation, an impoverished justice system, and did little to stem crime rates and recidivism.

A new measure proposes further amendments that would re-classify certain low-level, nonviolent felonies into misdemeanors, punishable by a short jail sentence rather than doing time in state prison. California voters will decide whether to approve the measure on November 4.

Amending the state's sentencing laws is no longer a bipartisan issue. Backers include liberals and moderates, like you might expect, but also include conservatives and many evangelical groups. The issue has become an economic and an ethical one, pricking the consciences of all.

In the 1980s and 90s California had a serious problem with crime, and the only known option to combat rising crime rates was to "get tough on crime" or "declare war on crime" by enacting harsh sentencing minimums. California has experimented with mandatory minimums long enough to see that, as they stand right now, they do not work, and the general consensus is that change is necessary. The debate is over what form that change will take.

George Gascón, San Francisco district attorney and the main sponsor of the measure, explained that many of the people imprisoned on non-violent third strike offenses struggle with mental health or substance abuse problems. The answer to psychologically motivated crimes is not incarceration; it's treatment.

The measure that will be on the table come November 4 is Proposition 47, and it would reclassify certain theft, forgery, and other property offenses as well as low-level drug crimes as misdemeanors. Although many in the state support changing California's minimum sentencing laws, many believe Prop 47 may be too radical. To learn more about Prop 47, view The New York Times feature on the issue.

At The Koffel Law Firm, we operate under the belief that the punishment should be proportionate to the crime. We take the time to get to know our clients, and acquaint the judge and jury members with our clients' stories. When appropriate, we always strive for alternative sentences such as counseling and rehabilitation. To learn more about how The Koffel Law Firm could help you after an arrest, call today.