Politics, government and public life for Southern California

Proposition 36: Three Strikes reform passes easily

Mercer 9526

Kevin Winter/Getty Images

L.A. District Attorney Steve Cooley endorsed Prop. 36.

California voters overwhelmingly passed Proposition 36, which amends the state's Three Strikes law to mandate that a third strike, which carries a life sentence, be a serious or violent crime.

Sixty-nine percent voted "yes" on the measure. California's Three Strikes law, once considered the toughest in the country, now looks more like dozens of other similar laws around the country.

California voters have rejected changes to the law, passed 18 years ago, in the past. In 2004, Proposition 66, which would have more drastically changed the law, failed despite polling well in the weeks before the election. Proposition 36, a considerably more modest reform, did not see the kind of coordinated opposition past reform efforts faced.

Nevertheless, district attorneys around the state opposed the change, which gives them less discretion over who should face the state's toughest punishments. But the L.A. and San Francisco D.A.'s, Steve Cooley and George Gascon, notably endorsed Proposition 36, saying the reform would help strengthen the law's legitimacy.


Proposition 36: Initiative would change sentences for some repeat offenders

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Next month, when voters go to the polls, they’ll consider altering one of California’s most famous laws—Three Strikes. Proposition 36 would change who qualifies for a life in prison sentence based on their past crimes. And would open up the door for resentencing for some 3,200 current inmates.

Three Strikes came out of a particular era in California. Polly Klass was murdered by Richard Allen Davis in 1993, a time when crime rates were at their peak in California and around the country. Since then, they have declined significantly.

The year before the Polly Klass’ murder, Mike Reynolds’ 18-year-old daughter, Kimber, was killed by a purse-snatcher. 

“They got the purse. And then one of them pulls out a 357 magnum, puts it in her ear, and pulls the trigger," Reynolds recalled. 

Like the man who killed Klass, Kimber’s murderers had long criminal histories; criminal histories, Reynolds said, that should have prevented them from being out on the streets.

“If you don’t know what a person is by the time they’ve had two prior serious and violent convictions, I might suggest you may not be the best judge of character," Reynolds said.

With that in mind, Reynolds crafted a ballot proposition in 1994 that did two things. First, it doubled sentences for a person who committed any felony after previously committing a serious or violent crime. And second, for those who’d committed two serious or violent crimes in the past, a third felony of any kind could mean 25 years to life in prison. Now, there are about 9,000 so called “third strikers” in prison.