California Proposition 36, Changes in the "Three Strikes" Law (2012)
|Referred by:||Petition signatures|
- 1 Aftermath
- 2 Election results
- 3 Text of measure
- 4 Support
- 5 Opposition
- 6 Editorial opinion
- 7 Polling information
- 8 Path to the ballot
- 9 External links
- 10 References
Proposition 36 modifies elements of California's "Three Strikes" Law, which was approved by the state's voters in 1994. In 2004, voters rejected Proposition 66, which like the 2012 measure was an attempt to change some aspects of the original "Three Strikes" Law.
- Revises the three strikes law to impose life sentence only when the new felony conviction is "serious or violent."
- Authorizes re-sentencing for offenders currently serving life sentences if their third strike conviction was not serious or violent and if the judge determines that the re-sentence does not pose unreasonable risk to public safety.
- Continues to impose a life sentence penalty if the third strike conviction was for "certain non-serious, non-violent sex or drug offenses or involved firearm possession."
- Maintains the life sentence penalty for felons with "non-serious, non-violent third strike if prior convictions were for rape, murder, or child molestation."
One impact of the approval of Proposition 36 was that the approximately 3,000 convicted felons who were as of November 2012 serving life terms under the Three Strikes law, whose third strike conviction was for a nonviolent crime, became eligible to petition the court for a new, reduced, sentence. Some estimates were that reducing the sentences of these current prisoners could result in saving the state somewhere between $150 to $200 million a year.
Altogether, about 8,800 prisoners are currently serving life terms in California prisons under the 1994 law.
24 states have a "Three Strikes"-type law.
Five months after the proposition was approved, the Associated Press reported that enforcement of the three-strikes law change had been carried out unequally between counties. For instance, in San Bernardino County, "33 percent of the 291 Three Strikes inmates [had] been granted release under Proposition 36." However, in Los Angeles and San Diego counties, "just 6 percent of the nearly 1,300 eligible inmates [had] had their sentences reduced." The statewide average was at 16 percent at that time.
- See also: 2012 ballot measure election results
|California Proposition 36 (2012)|
- These final, certified, results are from the California Secretary of State.
Text of measure
Note: The original title given to Proposition 36 by election officials during the petition circulation stage was, "Three Strikes Law. Sentencing for Repeat Felony Offenders. Initiative Statute."
The state's official voter guide included two summaries for each statewide ballot measure. One summary, in bullet-point format, was in the long-form description of each measure. A shorter form of the summary was on the ballot label in the front of the voter guide.
The long-form summary for Proposition 36 said:
The short-form (ballot label) summary for Proposition 36 said:
|"Revises law to impose life sentence only when new felony conviction is serious or violent. May authorize re-sentencing if third strike conviction was not serious or violent."|
The arguments in favor of Proposition 36 in the state's official voter guide were submitted by:
- Steve Cooley. Cooley is the District Attorney for Los Angeles County.
- George Gascon. Gascon is the District Attorney for San Francisco.
- David Mills. Mills is a professor at Stanford Law School.
- Jeffrey F. Rosen. Rosen is the District Attorney for Santa Clara County.
- Charlie Beck. Beck is the Chief of Police of the City of Los Angeles.
Other supporters included:
- The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
- Dan Newman, who filed the language for the initiative. He said, "I think we will end up having a broad, bipartisan coalition this time. We will not allow this campaign to be pigeonholed, as past efforts [to change the law] have been. This will include law enforcement, Democrats, Republicans, civil right leaders and taxpayer advocates."
- Mike Romano, a Stanford University law professor who founded the "Three Strikes Project" in 2006. He said, "nonviolent third-strikers are the least likely to re-offend of any group in prison" and that offenders "will have to go before a judge and show they are not a danger to the community before their sentence can be reduced by one day."
- Geri Silva of "Families Against California's Three Strikes." Silva supported Proposition 36 but said it does not go far enough: "We're happy to have this initiative, but why should you get eight years for a petty theft. Hell no. We have got to stop compromising."
Arguments in favor
The arguments presented in favor of Proposition 36 in the state's official voter guide included:
- It will "make the punishment fit the crime;" specifically, "Precious financial and law enforcement resources should not be improperly diverted to impose life sentences for some non-violent offenses. Prop. 36 will assure that violent repeat offenders are punished and not released early.
- It will "save California over $100 million every year;" specifically, "Taxpayers could save over $100 million per year—money that can be used to fund schools, fight crime and reduce the state’s deficit. The Three Strikes law will continue to punish dangerous career criminals who commit serious violent crimes—keeping them off the streets for 25 years to life."
- It will "make room in prison for dangerous felons;" specifically, "Prop. 36 will help stop clogging overcrowded prisons with non-violent offenders, so we have room to keep violent felons off the streets."
- It has the support of law enforcement: "Prosecutors, judges and police officers support Prop. 36 because Prop. 36 helps ensure that prisons can keep dangerous criminals behind bars for life. Prop. 36 will keep dangerous criminals off the streets."
- It has taxpayer support: "Prop. 36 could save $100 million every year. Grover Norquist, President of Americans for Tax Reform says, 'The Three Strikes Reform Act is tough on crime without being tough on taxpayers. It will put a stop to needlessly wasting hundreds of millions in taxpayers’ hard-earned money, while protecting people from violent crime.' The California State Auditor projects that taxpayers will pay millions to house and pay health care costs for non-violent Three Strikes inmates if the law is not changed. Prop. 36 will save taxpayers’ money."
- "Criminal justice experts and law enforcement leaders carefully crafted Prop. 36 so that truly dangerous criminals will receive no benefits whatsoever from the reform. Repeat criminals will get life in prison for serious or violent third strike crimes. Repeat offenders of non-violent crimes will get more than double the ordinary sentence. Any defendant who has ever been convicted of an extremely violent crime—such as rape, murder, or child molestation—will receive a 25 to life sentence, no matter how minor their third strike offense."
- "With the passage of Prop. 36, California will retain the toughest recidivist Three Strikes law in the country but will be fairer by emphasizing proportionality in sentencing and will provide for more evenhanded application of this important law."
Other arguments in favor of Proposition 36 included:
- "A life sentence for petty theft or drug possession is excessive."
| Total campaign cash |
as of November 3, 2012
The donors listed in the chart below are the $20,000 and over donors to the "Yes on 36" campaign as of Saturday, November 3, 2012. Note that some of these donors gave their money to a committee that was simultaneously supporting or opposing more than one of the ballot propositions on the November 6, 2012 ballot. When that is the case, it is not generally possible to break down how much of that donor's money specifically was spent on the campaign for a particular proposition. Those contributions are listed below with shading; readers should not assume that all or even most of a donation to a multi-purpose committee was used for expenditures related to this particular proposition.
|NAACP Legal Defense Fund||$175,000|
|California State Council of Service Employees (SEIU)||$75,272|
|National Education Association||$60,025|
|James S. Regan||$50,000|
|Peter Briger, Jr.||$50,000|
|California Teachers Association||$50,000|
|Working Families Issues Committee (AFL-CIO)||$22,500|
- Mike Reynolds, who wrote the language for California's "Three Strikes" Law. He said, "Once someone has been convicted of two serious or violent offences, I suggest it's pretty clear what they are capable of. If this passes, we are likely to see property crimes going up all over the state, and in very short order."
The arguments against Proposition 36 in the state's official voter guide were submitted by:
- Keith Royal. Royal, a sheriff, is the president of the California State Sheriff’s Association.
- Carl Adams. Adams, a District Attorney, is the president of the California District Attorneys Association.
- Harriet Salerno. Salerno is the president of Crime Victims United of California.
- Rick Braziel. Braziel, a police chief, is the president of the California Peace Officers Association.
- Henry Nicholas. Nicholas is the author of California’s Victims Bill of Rights.
- Christine Ward. Ward is the executive director of the Crime Victims Action Alliance.
The arguments in opposition to Proposition 36 presented in the state's official voter guide included:
- "In 1994 voters overwhelmingly passed the Three Strikes law — a law that increased prison sentences for repeat felons. And it worked! Almost immediately, our state’s crime rate plummeted and has remained low, even during the current recession. The reason is pretty simple. The same criminals were committing most of the crime—cycling through our courts and jails—over and over again."
- "In 2004, the ACLU and other opponents of tough criminal laws tried to change Three Strikes. The voters said NO. Now they are back again with Proposition 36. They couldn’t fool us last time and they won’t fool us this time. Just like before, Proposition 36 allows dangerous criminals to get their prison sentence REDUCED and then RELEASED FROM PRISON!"
- "So who does Proposition 36 apply to? Criminals so dangerous to society that a District Attorney chose to charge them with a Three Strike offense; Criminals so dangerous that a Judge agreed with DA’s decision to charge; Criminals so dangerous that a jury convicted them of that offense; Criminals so dangerous that a Judge imposed a 25-to-life prison sentence; and Criminals whose legal appeals were denied. After all that, Proposition 36 would let those same criminals ask a DIFFERENT Judge to set them free. Worse yet, some of these criminals will be released from prison WITHOUT PAROLE OR ANY SUPERVISION!"
- "Here’s what the Independent Legislative Analyst says about the early release of some prisoners under Proposition 36: 'Some of them could be released from prison without community supervision.'"
- "What do you think these newly released hardened criminals will do once they get out of prison? We already know the answer to that: They will commit more crimes, harm or kill more innocent victims, and ultimately end up right where they are today—back in prison. All of this will cost taxpayers more than keeping them behind bars right where they belong."
- "At the time Three Strikes was approved by the voters, some thought it might be too harsh or too costly. Voters rejected that view in 2004. But even if you believe that the Three Strikes law should be reformed, Proposition 36 is not the answer. Any change to the sentencing laws should only apply to future crimes committed—it should not apply to criminals already behind bars—cutting their sentences short. It is simply not fair to the victims of crime to have to relive the pain of resentencing and early release of these dangerous criminals."
Other arguments against Proposition 36 included:
- California saw a 37% drop in crime in the first four years after implementing "Three Strikes."
- "If criminals are on the street, especially repeat offenders, what are they going to be doing?"
- "While all states have seen drops [in crime], none have as much as in California."
| Total campaign cash |
as of November 3, 2012
These are the $10,000 and over donors to the "No on Proposition 36" campaign as of Saturday, November 3, 2012:
|Peace Officers Research Association PAC||$100,000|
|San Manuel Band of Mission Indians||$10,000|
"Yes on 36"
- The Bay Area Reporter: "This measure provides that a life sentence on the third strike could be imposed only for a serious or violent felony. Currently, untold numbers of inmates whose third strike was for non-violent drug possession are serving life sentences. This is a waste of money. Our priorities as a society are backward when we spend increasing amounts of money on incarceration and less and less on education."
- The Contra Costa Times: "This would fix some of the flaws in the Three-Strikes Law that have caused overcrowding in our state's prisons and jails. No one wants violent criminals back on the streets, and Proposition 36 doesn't do that."
- The Daily Democrat (Woodland, California): "This initiative would modify the state's 'three-strikes' law to limit excessive and unjustified punishments and ensure punishments are applied equally."
- The Fresno Bee: "Opponents say the Three Strikes law has led to the drop in the crime rate, and we agree that it is one of the many reasons for reduced crime. But this adjustment in the Three Strikes law makes sense."
- The Lompoc Record: "A major flaw in the existing three-strikes law is that some people are given life behind bars for low-level third-strike felonies, which tends to fill prisons with three-strikers who aren’t necessarily a threat to society. Prop. 36 doesn’t let those third-strike criminals completely off the hook. A non-violent third strike would earn a sentence twice what such an offense would normally draw — while saving taxpayers an estimated $100 million over the next decade."
- The Long Beach Press-Telegram: "Not only does this change make the punishment fit the crime, it would make Three Strikes uniform throughout the state."
- The Los Angeles Daily News: "It's unfortunate that any inmate must be released early. But as long as that's the order of the high court, it should be done fairly, sensibly and cost-effectively. That's not happening now. Make Three Strikes better and vote for Prop. 36."
- The Los Angeles Times: "Proposition 36 would create a level playing field and reserve harsh penalties only for dangerous criminals."
- The Marin Independent Journal: "The proposition makes sure the law targets the worst criminals by imposing a life sentence only when the new conviction is 'serious or violent' or involved firearm possession."
- The Merced Sun-Star: "Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley, the Republican candidate for attorney general in 2010 and hardly a bleeding heart, is one of its main backers."
- The Modesto Bee:
- The North County Times: "The plain truth is that our prison system is broken. Given the state's financial straits, the only realistic way to restore it to health is to reduce the load on it."
- The Orange County Register: "For, while Californians continue to support three strikes, which mandates a prison sentence of 25 years to life for offenders convicted of a third 'strike,' many who otherwise support the law are concerned that a nonserious, nonviolent third conviction potentially can send an offender away for the rest of his life. Proposition 36, the Three-Strikes Reform Act, would address that concern by revising the 18-year-old law to impose a 25-to-life sentence only when the third strike is violent or otherwise serious."
- The Press-Enterprise: "Prop. 36 would set a more coherent approach to crime without letting criminals escape justice. California should punish crimes — but that effort needs to be fair and sensible as well as tough-minded."
- The Sacramento Bee: "Proposition 36 would sand down some of the law's rough edges and ensure that it is applied equally across all 58 counties, but leave the law's strong heart in place."
- The San Bernardino Sun: "The original law said a third strike could be a petty theft or a drug possession. The result was to fill up the jails with people who had stolen socks or fallen off the wagon of their 12-step program. That is not what voters intended, and should be fixed. Prop. 36 would do that by requiring that the third strike be serious or violent - unless the first convictions were for rape, murder or child molestation. Things won't change for the state's most violent predators."
- The San Diego Union-Tribune: "Proposition 36...would make a smart improvement to 'three strikes'."
- The San Francisco Bay Guardian: "On Nov. 4, 1995, a small-time criminal named Leando Andrada stole $150 worth of videotapes from K-Mart. The father of three was charged with felony theft — and since he'd had prior convictions for burglary and marijuana transportation, his conviction led to a sentence of 25 years to life. That's nuts — but it's the result of a very bad 1994 law that has made California one of the harshest states in the nation for repeat offenders — and has overcrowded the state prisons and cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars."
- The San Francisco Chronicle: "There was a problem with this state's version of three strikes that has led to gross injustices as well as a huge waste of taxpayer money. Unlike in other states, the third felony conviction - or strike, triggering a sentence of 25 years to life - does not need to be a serious or violent offense."
- The San Gabriel Valley Tribune: "The voters absolutely did the right thing when they approved the measure back in 1994. Three Strikes has been a huge factor in helping reduce violent crime in California, but it had unintended consequences and it needs improvement."
- The Santa Cruz Sentinel: "We choose to believe that voters who support the original intention of three strikes realize locking up drug addicts for life because they are repeat offenders is both unfair and costly. Some 40 percent of third-strike prisoners in our state are nonviolent offenders."
"No on 36"
- The Redding Record Searchlight: "As crime is already rising, Proposition 36 would only put the law-abiding at further risk."
- The Ventura County Star: "Proposition 36...favors criminals over crime victims. Proposition 36 would allow about 3,000 third-strikers to seek resentencing by a judge if their third strike was not a serious or violent offense, thus reducing prison costs, proponents of the measure say. What they aren't telling voters is that the majority of these three-strikers are career criminals, who once freed from prison will likely commit new crimes. When arrested, they will again clog an overburdened court system, offsetting any saving as cities and counties, many dealing with shrinking budgets, will be forced to retry them."
- See also: Polls, 2012 ballot measures
A USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll was conducted from September 17-23, 2012.
|Date of Poll||Pollster||In favor||Opposed||Undecided||Number polled|
|September 17-23, 2012||USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times||66%||20%||14%||1,504|
|October 7-9, 2012||SurveyUSA||44%||22%||34%||700|
|October 7-10, 2012||California Business Roundtable||72.0%||17.1%||10.9%||830|
|October 15-21||USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times||63%||22%||15%||1,504|
|October 21-28, 2012||California Business Roundtable||67.4%||22.0%||10.6%||2,115|
Path to the ballot
- See also: California signature requirements
- Dan Newman submitted a letter requesting a ballot title on October 21, 2011.
- The ballot title and ballot summary were issued by the Attorney General of California's office on December 15, 2011.
- 504,760 valid signatures were required for qualification purposes.
- The 150-day circulation deadline for #11-0057 was May 14, 2012.
- Sponsors submitted over 830,000 signatures to county election officials in late April.
- On June 11, 2012, sponsors were notified that Proposition 36 had qualified for the November 6, 2012 ballot.
Cost of signature collection:
The cost of collecting the signatures to qualify Proposition 36 for the ballot came to $1,475,775.
The signature vendor was Progressive Campaigns (PCI).
- Complete November 6, 2012 official voter guide
- Ballot title, summary and LAO analysis of Proposition 36
- Arguments for and against Proposition 36 in the official state voter guide
- Letter requesting a ballot title for Initiative 11-0057
- Living Voters Guide to Proposition 36
- Proposition 36, an overview prepared by the League of Women Voters of California
- Proposition 36 on Voter's Edge
- Proposition 36 Cheatsheet from KCET
- Proposition 36 on California Choices (sponsored by Next 10, IGS at UC Berkeley, the UC San Diego Political Science Department, the Bill Lane Center for the American West at Stanford, and the Center for CA Studies at Sac State)
- Proposition 36 at the California Voter Foundation
- Fix Three Strikes, website supporting Proposition 36
- "Yes on 36" on Facebook
- "Yes on 36" on Twitter
- Campaign finance reports of the "Yes on 36" campaign committee
- Save 3 Strikes, website opposing Proposition 36
- Campaign finance reports of the "No on 36" campaign committee
- Mercury News, "Food labeling, 3-strikes join crowded Nov. ballot," June 11, 2012
- 89.3 KPCC, "New battle over 3 Strikes law looms," December 16, 2011
- San Francisco Chronicle, "'3 strikes': Proposed law tries to restore intent," November 28, 2011
- Stanford Daily, "Three Strikes Project drafts ballot initiative," November 29, 2011
- SFGate, "AP Exclusive: New '3 Strikes' law varies by county," May 4, 2013
- Los Angeles Times, "Plan to change three-strikes law moves toward November ballot," January 3, 2012
- Walnut Patch, "Democratic Party Picks State Ballot Measures to Support," July 30, 2012
- Hawaii's News Daily, "Soros Gives Big Bucks for California Three Strikes Reform Measure," January 17, 2012
- Walnut Creek Patch, "California Republicans Oppose Proposed Tax Measures," August 12, 2012
- Bay Area Reporter, "Editorial: State ballot measures," September 20, 2012
- Contra Costa Times, "Summary of our endorsements on state propositions," September 22, 2012
- Daily Democrat, "Democrat endorsements: Propositions," October 14, 2012
- Fresno Bee EDITORIAL: Three Strikes changes under Prop. 36 needed," October 8, 2012
- Lompoc Record, "Big changes for crime, punishment," October 12, 2012
- Long Beach Press Telegram, "Endorsement: Yes on Prop. 36 -- Make Three Strikes better and streets safer with this sensible measure," October 4, 2012
- Los Angeles Daily News, "Endorsement: Yes on Prop. 36 -- Make Three Strikes better and streets safer with this sensible measure," October 4, 2012
- Los Angeles Times, "Yes on Proposition 36," September 20, 2012
- Marin Independent Journal, "Editorial: IJ's endorsements for state Propositions 34-37," October 12, 2012
- Merced Sun-Star, "Fair penalties with Prop. 36," October 12, 2012
- Modesto Bee, "Prop. 36 would bring fairness to ‘three strikes’ law," October 15, 2012
- North County Times, "Yes on 36," September 21, 2012
- Orange County Register, "Editorial: Yes on Prop. 36, revising '3 strikes'," October 4, 2012
- Press-Enterprise, "Yes on 36," October 4, 2012
- "Sacramento Bee," "Endorsements: Yes on Prop. 36, a modest fix for three-strikes law," October 4, 2012
- San Bernardino Sun, "Prop. 36 is an improvement to Three Strikes," October 4, 2012
- San Diego Union-Tribune, "Yes on Prop. 36: A welcome change to ‘three strikes’," September 30, 2012
- San Francisco Bay Guardian, "Endorsements 2012: State ballot measures," October 3, 2012
- San Francisco Chronicle, "Editorial: Chronicle recommends," October 5, 2012
- San Gabriel Valley Tribune, "Prop. 36: A better Three Strikes law," October 4, 2012
- San Jose Mercury News, "Summary of our endorsements on state propositions," September 22, 2012
- Santa Cruz Sentinel, "Editorial: Yes on 36: Measure would modify Three Strikes law while still protecting public safety," October 2, 2012
- Redding Record Searchlight, "Editorial: Now is no time to pull the teeth of 'three strikes'," September 21, 2012
- Ventura County Star, "Editorial: Don't weaken three-strikes law; No on 36," September 14, 2012
- Los Angeles Times, "Californians back change on three strikes, but not on death penalty," September 30, 2012
- Contra Costa Times, "Three-strikes law alterations likely to qualify for November ballot," April 30, 2012