More Than a Thousand Drug Offenders Continue Doing Life Sentences Following Defeat of California Three-Strikes Reform Initiative 11/5/04

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An initiative that would have amended California's notorious three-strikes law to make it apply only to offenders whose third strike was a violent crime that appeared headed for victory was derailed by a last-minute scare campaign led by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. According to the office of the Secretary of State, the measure, which would also have allowed some 7,000 nonviolent third-strikers to apply to have their 25-years-to-life sentences reduced, was defeated by a margin of 53% to 47%.

Orange County FACTS Quilt,
courtesy FACTS
Under California's three-strikes law, which has been emulated around the country, persons with two prior convictions for violent or "serious" felonies can face life sentences with no chance of parole for 25 years. While ostensibly aimed at violent predatory criminals, the measure has also swept up some 4,000 people whose third strikes were as trivial as stealing pizza or videotapes, including more than 1,000 who are now doing 25-to-life for a third strike that was a drug offense.

Although sending someone to prison for life on a drug possession charge or for what would normally be considered misdemeanor theft would normally be considered cruel and unusual punishment, the US Supreme Court last year disagreed, upholding the law ( While California voters appeared poised to strike down the law's most onerous provisions, thanks in part to a well-funded campaign publicly fronted by well-known crime victim relative Joe Klaas (, the last-minute effort led by Gov. Schwarzenegger resulted in the most dramatic reversal of fortune for an initiative in California history.

While support for the reform measure was running at 65% going into the last weeks of the campaign, by the week before the election support had dropped to 55% as Gov. Schwarzenegger, a Republican, former governors Pete Wilson (R), Gray Davis (D), and Jerry Brown (D), along with the California prison guards union embarked on a furious push to defeat it. Schwarzenegger aired factually-challenged television ads warning that thousands of violent criminals would be freed, while telecommunications billionaire Henry Nicholas, founder of Broadcom, pumped more than a million dollars into the late ad blitz, the Los Angeles Times reported.

"I've seen declines before, but I've never seen it this abrupt," Field Poll spokesman Peter DiCamillo told the Times late last week. "The linkage of Arnold himself with the 'no' side in a very visible way sunk into voters this week."

By Tuesday, momentum had swung against the initiative. Still, three-strikes reformers vowed to try again. "Nothing ends today," said campaign leader Joe Klaas, who has battled for 10 years to enact common sense reforms. Former Gov. Wilson had used the story of Klaas' daughter, Polly, victim of a vicious murder, to rally support for the original three-strikes initiative. Joe Klaas and his father campaigned against it after learning it would also apply to nonviolent offenders. "Opponents of Proposition 66 pointed to specific things they opposed in this initiative, but always acknowledged the flaws in the three strikes law that still need to be fixed. Those flaws remain and this fight goes on," he added in the post-defeat statement.

Proposition 66 supporters pledged to redouble and broaden their efforts, reaching out to opponents -- legislators, district attorneys, editorialists -- who acknowledged the serious flaws in the three strikes law, to find solutions that can and will be enacted. "It's still as absurd as ever to give shoplifters and petty drug offenders the same sentences as rapists and armed robbers," said Klaas. "We now ask Prop. 66 opponents to work with us to preserve three-strikes and fix these unjust flaws."

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Issue #361, 11/5/04 Editorial: Ironic Hypocrisy | Big Win in Big Sky Country: Montana Approves Medical Marijuana | Alaska Marijuana Initiative Defeated | Oregon Measure to Expand Medical Marijuana Access Defeated | More Than a Thousand Drug Offenders Continue Doing Life Sentences Following Defeat of California Three-Strikes Reform Initiative | Local Marijuana Initiatives and Questions Win in Ann Arbor, Columbia, Oakland and Massachusetts | Newsbrief: Victory for Rockefeller Law Foe in Albany DA Race | Newsbrief: Another Tulia in East Texas? | Newsbrief: South Carolina Jury Refuses to Send Opium Smoker to Prison for Decades, Acquits Him of Trafficking Instead | Newsbrief: Dr. Hurwitz Trial Underway, Key Pain Doctor Prosecution | Newsbrief: Group Hands Out Free Crack Pipes in Vancouver Harm Reduction Action | Newsbrief: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories | This Week in History | The DARE Generation Returns to DC: Students for Sensible Drug Policy 2004 National Conference Next Month | Apply Now to Intern at DRCNet! | Seeking Information, Affiliations, Link Exchanges | The Reformer's Calendar

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