After High Court Upholds Harsh "Three Strikes" Sentencing Law, ACLU of Southern CA Vows Reform Efforts

March 5, 2003 12:00 am

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After High Court Upholds Harsh “Three Strikes” Sentencing Law, ACLU of Southern CA Vows Reform Efforts


LOS ANGELES – Reacting to a Supreme Court ruling upholding California’s harsh “three strikes” law, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California today vowed to work toward the much-needed reforms that the Justices failed to institute.

“Today’s ruling makes clear that California voters, rather than our politicians or courts, will have to take responsibility for fixing our ‘three strikes’ law, which is the broadest and harshest in the nation,” said Ramona Ripston, Executive Director of the ACLU of Southern California. “Californians never intended to give petty, non-violent offenders the same sentences we apply to people who commit murder, rape, and other violent crimes.”

In two separate rulings issued today, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld and refused to overturn the sentences of two non-violent repeat offenders from California who were sentenced to unusually long prison terms for petty theft offenses.

Passed in 1994, California’s law — the harshest of its kind in the nation — requires a prison term of 25 years to life for anyone convicted of a third felony after two previous serious or violent felony convictions. California is the only state in the nation that allows such stiff punishment for a minor, nonviolent “third strike.”

“Our ‘three strikes’ law has too many unintended consequences: it is profoundly unjust, it is costing us a fortune, and it is tearing families and communities apart,” said Ripston. “Voters are beginning to understand what an unjust and wasteful law this is.”

A public opinion poll conducted in 2002 by the firm, Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin & Associates on behalf of Families to Amend California’s Three Strikes (FACTS) found that 65 percent of likely general election voters in California would favor amending the “three strikes” law so that it applies only in cases of violent or serious felonies such as rape, robbery or murder.

The ACLU of Southern California is working closely with FACTS, Human Rights Watch, and other groups to fight for “three strikes” reform at the ballot box. California Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg has introduced legislation which would place on election ballots an initiative to limit the application of the “three strikes” law to violent offenders.

The ACLU national office and its California affiliates served as co-counsel in one of the cases decided today, Lockyer v. Andrade, 01-1127. The case dealt with a man who was sentenced to a minimum of 50 years in prison under the law for stealing $153 worth of children’s videotape.

The other case decided today, Ewing v. California, 01-6978, dealt with a man who received 25 years to life for stealing $1,200 worth of golf clubs.

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