California has the toughest three-strikes law in the nation. Prosecutors can seek a 25-year-to-life prison sentence under the law that many opponents say is a draconian measure, sending too many people away to prison for life for minor offenses. A new initiative is now ready to be placed on the ballot to reform the law.

The California Attorney General issued the title and summary of the initiative to roll back the harsh law last week, which is now known as the Three-Strikes Reform Act of 2012. The measure would narrow the types of offenses that can trigger a third strike. Many Californians have heard stories of life sentences imposed for relatively minor offenses under the harsh California three-strikes law.

Eight years ago, a similar reform measure went before California voters. That proposal went further in reducing the number of offenses that would trigger a third strike. In 2004, the three-strikes reform effort sought to eliminate a conviction on residential burglary charges from those offenses that could trigger a three-strikes life sentence.

The Three-Strikes Reform Act of 2012 would make the three-strikes sentencing provisions available to prosecutors only in criminal cases involving serious or violent crimes. A loophole for lesser current offenses is included in the current proposal for offenders who have previously been convicted of a very serious offense, such as murder, rape or child molestation.

Many experts believe the new reform measure has a good chance of passing. Certainly, most Californians are aware of the state’s financial woes. The expense of a life sentence for a relatively minor offense has many Californians concerned about the growth in public spending on the criminal justice system. Realignment is also a hot-button topic that has raised the public’s awareness of the costs of incarceration in the state.

If the current initiative passes, it would allow a significant number of current third strikers to seek relief from the harsh consequences of their three-strikes sentences. Authorities say as many as 3,000 of the 8,000 inmates serving a three-strikes sentence would be eligible to file a petition in court for a review of their sentences, and potentially gain reduced sentences.

Source: 89.3 KPCC, “New battle over 3 Strikes law looms,” Frank Stoltze, Dec. 16, 2011