We have all heard of the newest anti-crime law, the “Three strikes and you’re out” law. It wasn’t easy getting this law from the bill stage in Sacramento to the law stage, because it is not a criminal friendly law. Meaning that this law’s purpose is to bring pain, suffering, and intimidation to criminals. Our state government was basically ran by the Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, now mayor of San Francisco. Brown had the power to choose who sat on what committee in the house, and using this he could terminate any bill he did not agree with. And with this attitude it took a lot of patients and perseverance by the people trying to pass this bill. But how did the bill become a bill? I will answer this question with help of the Kimber Reynolds story.
Monday, June 29, 1992 in Fresno, California a young woman was brutally murdered outside The Daily Planet, a restaurant patronized by the local young people. The girl was visiting home for the summer after being in the Los Angeles area attending school. Her and a friend were getting into their car when two guys on a motorcycle rode up next to Kimber Reynolds blocking her in, taking her purse, and beating her into submission. The story made the 11 o’clock news only minutes after her father had gone to bed. When police ran a background check on the two suspected men, Joeseph Micheal Davis and Douglas Walker, both men had recently been released on parole with multiple offenses on their records. Unfortunately Davis was never brought in because when police were attempting to arrest him he began firing, wounding unsuspecting police officers and ultimately being killed. Douglas Walker was convicted of accessory to murder.
Mike Reynolds, Kimber’s father, went on the radio on a local radio show called the Ray Appleton Show, KMJ 580. There he would discuss his outrage about how he was sick of repeat offenders being locked up only to be released after a fraction of the sentence was completed. He swore to the people listening that he was going to do something about the problem, even if it takes him forever. Listening to that show was Fresno Assemblyman Bill Jones (R). He was interested in the issue and arranged a meeting with Mike. They discussed ideas about how they could solve this problem.
With that in mind Mike used some connections and gathered one superior, one appellate, and one municipal court judge, as well as a well-known local defense attorney, a representative from the Fresno Police Department, an expert in juvenile justice and Ray Appleton. The men did some research and drew up some ideas. Their final legislative proposal was as follows:
Double the sentence for a conviction of any felony if there is a previous serious or violent felony conviction.
Triple the sentence or twenty-five years to life, whichever is greater, for any combination of two prior violent or serious felony convictions coupled with any new felony.
Probation, a suspended sentence, or a commitment to a diversion program as a substitute for serving time in prison is prohibited for felons with at least one prior conviction of a serious or violent felony.
Any felon with at least one prior serious or violent felony conviction must serve any subsequent felony sentence in a state prison (as opposed to a county jail).
Terms are to be served consecutively, rather than concurrently.
Maximum allowable time off for good behavior is reduced to 20 percent.
Juvenile convictions for serious of violent felonies count as prior convictions if the felony was committed when the juvenile was sixteen or seventeen years old.
When a defendant has at least one prior conviction for a serious or violent felony, the district attorney is required to plead and prove all known prior felony convictions. Prior felony convictions cannot be used as part of a plea-bargain.
Now that Mike had the proposal he had Bill Jones submit it to the state legislature. Right away the bill was sent to the Assembly Public Safety committee to be approved. This committee is known as a killer of tough-on-crime bills, and consisted of eight members, Paula Boland, Richard Rainey, Tom Umberg, Tom Bates, John Burton, Barbara Lee, and committee chairman Robert Epple. Both Boland and Rainey were Republicans while the rest were Democrats, and one vacant seat due to unknown reasons. This committee was moderate or even moderately conservative, but because Willie Brown had the power to choose members of the committee he chose those people whom he thought would sway the vote towards a liberal direction, which did not reflect the philosophy of the whole assembly. Mike also had asked Fresno Assemblyman Jim Costa (D) to be a co-author of their proposal, Mike wanted a bipartisan approach to the legislature. Meaning he wanted to have both major parties represented in the proposal.
The men had two Republican and two Democratic votes in their favor and only needed one more vote to pass, but unfortunately they did not get that one vote because Brown set up the committee and didn’t want a tough-on-crime bill. Berkeley Assemblyman John Burton gave Jones an option to re-write their proposal the way he sees fit, or have the proposal taken from the floor again and put to another vote. The problem with the latter was that if it failed again there would never be another next time. Jones and Mike Reynolds did neither of the two, their mission now was to take it straight to the people of the state and find out what they think.
The two men did exactly that, paying for publicity out of their own pockets. Eventually they did get corporate assistance from organizations like the NRA (National Rifle Association) and the CCPOA (California Correctional Peace Officers Association), as well as others. Their efforts would not be fruitless because they knew that if they could get enough signatures that the proposal would be put on the November, 1994 election ballot. The men had hundreds of thousands of signatures that lead to the induction of the proposal to the ballot as “Prop 184.” The men made a few minor changes to the proposal but in the end it basically read as before. The men knew they had to keep it simple because they knew people would not vote for something they could not understand.
There is a lot of talk about serious and violent felonies in the law and there are certain offenses that must be met in order to qualify as a serious or violent felony. The felonies that would fall under both categories would be those that are beyond misdemeanors and/or carry an extensive sentence.
With the passage of “Three strikes” some argued that it would ignite an increase in violence against law enforcement officers, putting them in danger as they tried to maintain public safety. The American Civil Liberties Union argued that criminals facing a life sentence if they were to be convicted would be far more likely to resist arrest, assault officers and kill witnesses. Since the enactment of the law violence against law enforcement officers has not risen but fallen. In the three years prior to the law assault against law enforcers dropped 14.9% while since the enactment it has dropped 11.9%, setting a downward trend.
Some studies have argued that the population of prisons and jails will rise substantially because of the increased prison sentences, limitations on the ability of repeat offenders to earn credits to reduce time, and prisoners required to be sentenced to prison rather than jails. Despite predictions to the contrary, the growth in the prison population since the enactment has slowed. In the four years prior to the law the prison population increased by 37%. Since the enactment the prison population has grown only 32%. That is near the percentage for the nation at 27% excluding California. While jail populations have increased during this era, the average number of persons booked over this period has dropped. The average number of people booked per month in county jails hit a record low in 1995 with 97,589. This is because 6% of criminals are responsible for 70% of all crime.
During the debate over the “Three Strikes law, opponents argued that the prison system would become overfilled with non-violent offenders serving life terms. Trying to prove this true a study conducted by the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice in 1996 concluded that 85% of the people sentenced under the “Three Strikes” law received their third strike for a non-violent crime. It reported that 192 individuals were convicted of marijuana possession while only 40 were convicted of murder, 25 of rape, and 24 of kidnapping. At the end of 1997, California’s inmate population totaled 152,577. 23.2% of the inmates (35,411), were imprisoned for second- and third-strike convictions.
There were repeated warnings about the cost to implement the new law, but few have addressed the other side of the equation and the savings to the state, in lives and in dollars. Had our 1993 crime rate continued unaffected over these past few years, nearly 815,000 additional crimes would have been committed in California, including 217,000+ violent crimes. We would have suffered more than 4,000 homicide victims; 6000+ women would have been victims of rape. Also the savings in dollars is between $5.8 billion and $15.5 billion since the enactment of the “Three Strikes” law.
There has been swift and dramatic impact on crime since the enactment of the “Three Strikes” law. The crime rate has dropped more than 30%. But there are other factors that play a part in this reduction like crime prevention, and community policing. However there has been a significant drop in the crime rate. Also the predictions about cost, over populating and others have not come true. With all of the opposition out there trying to tear this law down I believe that California can not afford to do without this law because it is saving our state money and lives.