Patterico corrects some misinformation on California’s three strikes law.
Frankly, it’s hard to think of a better authority than a Californian prosecutor.
In order to be subject to a 25-to-life sentence under the Three Strikes Law, a defendant must have at least two previous felonies that qualify as serious or violent: murder, rape, robbery, arson, kidnapping, residential burglary, assault with a deadly weapon, and the like. Then one must commit a third felony.
What’s more, even then, a 25-to-life sentence is not “mandatory.” A judge always has discretion to dismiss one or more strike priors in the interests of justice, if he reasonably concludes that the defendant falls outside the spirit of the Three Strikes Law. In Los Angeles, if the third felony is not serious or violent, judges will generally dismiss one or more strike priors.
There are situations where a sentence is enhanced when a second felony is not a strike — but they aren’t 25-to-life situations. If a defendant has one serious or violent felony on his record, and commits a second felony of any kind, his sentence can be doubled. Here, too, the strike prior can be stricken — and often is, in drug cases, minor theft cases, and/or where the prior is very old, to name some examples of typical situations.
The Slate article is substantially misleading and should be corrected.
Incidentally, I’m working on getting a copy of the study discussed in the article. I have a feeling it’s flawed, but you never know until you read it.
P.S. Possession of marijuana is generally a misdemeanor in California, unless it is possessed for sale. Stealing golf clubs or videotapes is generally a misdemeanor, unless the defendant has a prior theft conviction for which he received jail or prison time, or the property exceeds $400 in value. Even then, you can get a misdemeanor with a relatively clean record.