And They're Out
California Lawyer

And They're Out

by Lorelei Laird

October 2013

The reform of three-strikes sentencing - undertaken by voters last year with the passage of Proposition 36 - made 3,000 to 3,500 lifers eligible for resentencing or release.

But inmates aren't guaranteed an attorney for most post-conviction proceedings. So, at the request of Stanford Law School's Three Strikes Project, which advocates for people serving long third-strike sentences for minor crimes, most California public defenders' offices have been handling resentencing petitions for free. In counties without public defenders, the project connects prisoners with pro bono attorneys.

"Public defenders' offices throughout the state have essentially taken the position that these are our clients," says Harvey Sherman, a deputy public defender in Los Angeles.

Under California's 1994 three-strikes law, anyone with two prior convictions for a serious or violent felony must be sentenced to 25 years to life for any subsequent felony - violent or not. This resulted in enormous sentences for thousands of offenders for crimes like drug possession. The policy contributed to chronic prison overcrowding and added hundreds of millions to corrections spending. Its opponents include former Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley, who refused to prosecute nonviolent, non-serious felonies as third "strikes" because he felt the law was unjust. Prop. 36 changed the tide by amending Cal. Penal Code § 667(b)-(i) to require that a third strike be serious or violent to qualify, and by allowing inmates already serving life sentences for nonviolent third strikes to petition for resentencing. (Nonviolent third-strikers serving sentences shorter than life get no such opportunity.)

By early August, 926 lifers statewide had won petitions for release or shorter sentences under Prop. 36 - including 119 helped by Sherman's team. The vast majority - 896 - were released with time served; the other 30 had their sentences reduced, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). Hundreds more petitions were pending.

Superior Court Judge WIlliam C. Ryan, who is handling the petitions in Los Angeles County, says the few he has denied with prejudice were filed by prisoners who weren't eligible.

Based on the CDCR's per-inmate cost estimate, the absence of those 896 inmates could save California up to $50 million this fiscal year. The real test of Prop. 36 may come when prosecutors challenge petitions from lifers who qualify for resentencing on the grounds they remain a public threat. But by August the Stanford project hadn't heard of any newly released third-strikers being rearrested.

Reader Comments

diana - November 2, 2013
I want to know if this is for all lifers. because my son is a lifer. can you tell me through email who eligibly are for.
Kim Blackwell - November 2, 2013
I have been trying for years to get an appeals attorney to help me with my grandsons appeal. The first attorney cost me $226000.00 and the second appeals attorney me $26000.00. The appeals attorney was filed to late and rejected by the courts. I sent a certified return receipt to this attorney to refund my money with no response which, I understand is a misdemeanor. Due to this, I am totally broke. It was proved in court that my grandson was not involved in the first two charges but my attorney hardley objected to anything in court. Can you help me? Adam Gray, T40244 has been in custody for over 13 years. He has a clean record prior to being incarcerated and is currently at Mule Creek State Prison.
John price sr - November 5, 2013
I'm in need of accurate info. My son was sentenced as a 3-striker at 20 years of age. Prior to his third strike my son never served a prison sentence , had only a juvenile prior for g.t.a, and served a total of 13 days incarcerated his entire life. He has a total of three adult convictions. Attempted burglary, burglary, and robbery. No weapons or no injuries also never allowed a "Romero" hearing. So my question is with so limited criminal record, and his extremely young age at sentencing is there any thing that can be done , or any lawyer you recommend, to help him receive a Romero hearing. Any direction you can provide will be highly appreciated. Thank you for your time and energy.
s. horton - November 10, 2013
inmate from Lake County CA was vastly overcharged at young age with 2 bergs (one a chair from adoptive mom's storage shed) then a 2nd burg/strike for writing himself a $50 uncashed check from her checkbook. 3rd strike alleged "terrorist threat" by angry jealous ex. He never got out of his car at ex girlfriend's house. She came out to him with 911 call line open. 911 Operator never heard any threat. He accepted a 6 year plea bargain (due to threats from the prosecution) but was given a 25 year third strike instead. Drunken attorney fired by defender department but inmate is still in state prison. I have made multiple calls to Lake County Defenders Dept and no one answers the phone. Will someone look into this? I am a former CDC employee and I have read his files. My email is
stefani horton - January 8, 2014
Maybe some 3 strike non violent people are out- but not Scott Williams, SEE FACTS FROM NOV. 10, 2013 ARTICLE. In his late 40's he has spent most of his life inside for factually ridiculous small property crimes and an unharmned but jealous x girlfriend.

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