THREE STRIKES LAW
The three strikeslaw was established in California State as an emotional reaction to acouple of high-profile murders within the state. The enactment of thelaw posed several challenges to lawmakers in comparison toestablished statutes within the Constitution. General crime rates hadbeen falling throughout the country as a result of factors other thanthe three strikes law. Additionally, the three strikers committed arelatively small portion of crimes in comparison to the totalfelonies committed. The ineffectiveness of the three strikes law as acrime deterrent justifies its total exclusion from federal law.
The three strikeslaw refers to a law that was formulated in 1994 to incarcerate repeatoffenders for 25 years to life. In the 1990’s, Kimber Reynolds, 18,and Polly Klaas, 12, were brutally murdered by hardened ex-felons. Inthe wake of such high-profile killings, the pain and anger led to thecreation of the three strikes law in California. The law was intendedto stop recidivist offenders from committing additional crimes.Repeat offenders were adjudged as unresponsive to the behaviormodification programs undertaken by the prison system. Besides, somecriminals were undeterred by the prospect of incarceration.Therefore, the three strikes law would serve to remove such felonsfrom the society for longer periods (Walsh, 2007). It was also hopedthat the law would deter offenders from committing new crimes.Nevertheless, the three strikes law has failed to reduce crime andshould be scrapped from federal law.
The three strikeslaw has unique provisions that set it apart from other criminalstatutes. For example, sentences for multiple offenses are appliedconsecutively rather than concurrently. The duration of time sincethe prior conviction is a non-factor in consideration of whether thelaw is enforced. Convicted "strikers" are prevented fromserving alternative punishments of probation. Additionally, prisonsentences are never suspended for the case of "third strikers".Repeat offenders are unconditionally assigned to state prisonsinstead of local or county jails (Skiffer, 2011). Until 2012,offenders with two prior felonies would be imprisoned for 25 years tolife if they committed a non-violent non-serious crime. Strikers arestrictly barred from reducing their time in prison by more thanone-fifth. In this regard, earning credits from educational and workactivities adds little benefit to their character valuation (Parker,2012). Double strikers are also sentenced to prison terms of doublethe usual duration.
Various studieshave been conducted to establish the effect of the three strikes lawon the incidence of crime in California. On the one hand,argumentation has sought to show the effectiveness of the law inreducing crime levels. On the contrary, evidence has also been citedto highlight the ineffectiveness of the law in combating crime. Thenumber of crimes in California State has reduced steeply since theenactment of the three strikes law. However, the point is made to theeffect that national crime rates have been decreasing independent ofthe three strikes law. In fact, the three strikes law was enacted twoyears after the crime rates in California State began declining(Walsh, 2007).
Many reasons havebeen given in explaining the general reduction in the incidence ofcrime. For example, the active state of the economy has supported thecreation of jobs for the sake of unemployed citizens. Moreover, thegovernment has adopted more efficient measures of enforcing laws andcombating crime (University of California, 2012). Changes indemographics have also been fundamental because African Americans andHispanics form the largest percentage of convicted felons (Skiffer,2011). Stricter gun laws have reduced the number of firearms incirculation. Therefore, the enactment of the three strikes law hadlittle impact on the occurrence of crime in California.
The three strikeslaw has been lauded for deterring criminals from committing otherfelonies. On the other hand, it violates the 8th amendmentrights of convicted strikers. American citizens are constitutionallyprotected against inhumane and unusual punishment. The punishmentinflicted for a particular misdemeanor should be commensurate withthe harm caused. In many instances, relatively minor offensesresulted in graver penalties than violent, serious crimes byfirst-time felons (Kieso, 2005). Rather than ensuring justice forinnocent victims, the three strikes law violates the constitutionalrights of repeat offenders.
The three strikeslaw also infringes on the separation of powers. District attorneysand prosecutors have the discretion to either enforce or strike offprevious felonies while the judiciary previously lacked such power.In recognition of this loophole, the Supreme Court moved to grantjudges the discretion to dismiss or redefine recorded misdemeanors.Such a provision has created considerable variation in the decisionsmade by judges in state cases. The inconsistency and unreliability ofthe judicial system have served to perpetuate crime. The number offelons under the three strikes cannot be accurately ascertained(Parker, 2012). Besides, it is impossible to estimate the number ofcrimes prevented by effecting sentence enhancements.
The percentage ofthird strikers whose offense was serious is relatively small comparedto those that committed gross and violent crimes. Granted, such astatistic appears to illustrate the disproportionate nature of thethree strikes law. However, it is worth noting that some attorneyselect to prosecute for non-violent offenses that are relativelyeasier to prove in court as compared to serious crimes. Prosecutorsoverlook serious crimes in preference of lesser crimes since thethree strikes law would take precedence in either case. As a group,strikers commit only around 10% of the total felonies in CaliforniaState (Parker, 2012). Therefore, changes in the rates of this limitednumber would realistically have minimal effect on the overall crimerate.
However, it canbe proven beyond reasonable doubt that the implementation of thethree strikes law in California has inevitably raised the prisonpopulation. The first group of third party strikers are expected tobe eligible for parole as from 2019. Until then, the inmatepopulation will not only increase, but also the average age of prisonmates will rise. Consequently, the state will have increasedoperating and capital costs. The quality of education would beweakened due to less allocation of funds (Parker, 2012). Underminingthe financial status of the state would also be felt in the cuts madein critical programs.
As discussed, thethree strikes law was a noble idea established to protect innocentcitizens from the harm caused by unreformed repeat offenders.However, while this has incapacitated criminals for longer periods,it has inadvertently raised the costs incurred by California State.The financial health of the state has been compromised by maintaininga high prison population (Parker, 2012). Furthermore, the generalcrime rates in the country have been dropping due to factors otherthan the adoption of the three strikes law (University of California,2012). Therefore, the inconsequential nature of the three strikes lawargues against its further deployment. The opportunity cost ofimplementing the law also strengthens the calls for its eradication.
Kieso, D. W. (2005). Unjust sentencing and the California ThreeStrikes Law. New York: LFB Scholarly Pub.
Parker, R. N. (2012). Why California’s ‘Three Strikes’ Fails asCrime and Economic Policy, and What to Do. California Journal ofPolitics and Policy. Retrieved June 24, 2015 fromhttp://ucrtoday.ucr.edu/9405
Skiffer, L. T. (2011). The race, class, and gender bias of theAmerican justice system: A study of California`s "Three strikes"law. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press.
University of California, Riverside. (2012, October 15). Evidencedoes not support three strikes law as crime deterrent, Californiastudy finds. Science Daily. Retrieved June 24, 2015 fromwww.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121015182421.htm
Walsh, J. E. (2007). s. Westport, Conn.: GreenwoodPress.