California Proposition 184, the Three Strikes Initiative (1994)

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Proposition 184, also known as the Three Strikes Initiative, was on the November 8, 1994 ballot in California as an initiated state statute, where it was approved.

Proposition 184 strengthened a three-strikes law that the California State Legislature passed in March 1994.[1]

Proposition 184 is the strictest "three strikes" sentencing law in the United States. It doubled the penalty for a second felony if the first one was serious or violent and carries a mandatory prison sentence of 25 years to life for a third felony. Although several dozen states now have three-strikes laws, California is the only state where the third felony does not have to be regarded as serious or violent to count.[2]


In 2012, Proposition 36 loosened some aspects of the Three Strikes law. Five months later it was reported the new version of the law was being unequally enforced.[3]

As of June 2011, about 8,800 inmates in California's prison system were serving under the "Three Strikes" provision.[4]

Election results

California Proposition 184 (1994)
Approveda Yes 5,906,268 71.8%


In June 1992, 18-year-old Kimber Reynolds, upon leaving a local restaurant, was attacked by two men. They tried to grab her purse and ultimately shot her in the ear with a .357 magnum. She died 26 hours later. Her father, Mike Reynolds, made her a promise on her deathbed: "I promised her that if I could do anything to prevent this from happening to other kids, I would do everything I could."[2]

The men responsible for the murder of Kimber were repeat offenders which led Mike Reynolds to his campaign to keep repeat offenders behind bars.

Eighteen months after the death of Kimber Reynolds, 12-year-old Polly Klaas was kidnapped, raped and murdered by Richard Allen Davis, also a repeat offender.[2]

Since Prop 184 passed, Reynolds has been engaged in a multi-year battle to keep it in effect. "I never dreamed that this would require the long-term maintenance that it has demanded. We find attempts to undo this law, other initiatives placed on the ballot to literally gut the law. It has become a life-changing event for us."[2]


In the immediate aftermath of Proposition 184, district attorneys in California's 58 counties used the law to seek maximum three-strike terms with considerable higher frequency than did in the years 2008-2011.[5]

  • In 1996, 1,700 three-strike "lifer" terms were sought and imposed.
  • In the years 2008-2010, the number of "lifer" terms sought and imposed under Proposition 184 had fallen to short of 200 each year.
  • In 1996, Sacramento County imposed 94 life-time terms. In 2010, the number was down to 16.

Sacramento County District Attorney Jan Scully said the reason for the drop is, "Not just in Sacramento but across the state, we've put away people on three strikes and they aren't now in our communities."

Attempts to repeal

Too strict?

Shane Reams is one of 3,000 prisoners in California who are serving a 25-years-to-life sentence under the terms of Proposition 184. Reams had two convictions for felonious burglary when he was convicted a third time for serving as a lookout when a friend sold $20 worth of cocaine to an undercover cop. He mother, Sue Reams, who reported him for the first two burglaries (one of which was committed in her home), has been fighting a multi-year battle to overturn the Three Strikes law.[2]

Prop 36 in 2000

With the passage of Proposition 36 in 2000, criminals arrested for drug violations became eligible for treatment rather than subject to the provisions of Proposition 184.[1]

2003 challenge in Supreme Court

In a case brought on behalf of Leandro Andrade, who was sentenced under the provisions of Proposition 184 after a third crime of stealing $150 worth of videotapes, the California Supreme Court on March 6, 2003 in a 5-4 decision upheld the constitutionality of Proposition 184. The attorney for Andrade was Erwin Cherminsky.[1]

Prop 66 in 2004

In 2004, an initiative labeled California Proposition 66 (2004) tried, but unsuccessfully, to modify some of the provisions of Proposition 184.

Proposition 66 was leading in the polls several weeks before the election, when a TV ad blitz began that featured Arnold Schwarzenegger, who said in the ads, "Under Proposition 66, 26,000 dangerous criminals will be released from prison, child molesters, rapists, murderers. Vote 'No' on 66. Keep them behind bars."[2]

Romero in 2006

Gloria J. Romero, a state senator, proposed legislation in 2006 that would soften the provisions of Prop 184. Her bill would have required that the third offense be considered serious or violent. Her bill did not advance in the senate.[1]

Text of measure

The ballot title was:

Increased Sentences. Repeat Offenders (Three Strikes).

The ballot summary was:

  • Increases sentences for defendants convicted of any felony who have prior convictions for violent or serious felonies such as rape, robbery or burglary.
  • Convicted felons with one such prior conviction would receive twice the normal sentence for the new offense. Convicted felons with two or more such prior convictions would receive a life sentence with a minimum term three times the normal sentence or 25 years, whichever is greater.
  • Includes as prior convictions certain felonies committed by juveniles 16 years of age, or older.
  • Reduces sentence reduction credit which may be earned by these convicted felons.

The fiscal estimate provided by the California Legislative Analyst's Office said:

  • Provisions of this measure are identical to a law that was enacted in March 1994. That law will (1) increase state prison operating costs by hundreds of millions of dollars annually, reaching about $3 billion in 2003 and about $6 billion annually by 2026; (2) increase state prison construction costs by about $20 billion; (3) have an unknown net fiscal effect on local governments; and (4) possibly result in other savings of unknown magnitude to state and local governments to the extent prison sentences prevent offenders from committing additional crimes for which government would have incurred costs.
  • Because this measure reaffirms the March 1994 changes, it would have no direct fiscal impact on state and local governments.

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