Although 25 other states have passed three-strikes laws, only California punishes minor crimes with a life sentence.
After nearly 20 years and over $20 billion spent, California voters
have voted overwhelmingly to reform our state’s draconian “three
strikes” law. The statewide ballot measure, Proposition 36 ,
delivered a two-to-one mandate (68.6%-31.4%) to close a controversial
loophole in the law so that life sentences can only be imposed when the
new felony conviction is “serious or violent.”
Three strikes laws, often known as habitual offender laws, grew out
of the “tough on crime” era of the 1980s and 90s. Between 1993 and 1995,
24 states passed some kind of three strikes law, but California’s 1994
three strikes ballot measure was especially harsh.
While the 1994 law required
the first and second strike to be either violent or serious, any
infraction could trigger a third strike and the life sentence that went
with it. Therefore, petty offenses – such as stealing a piece of pizza –
have led to life imprisonment for thousands of people.