A move to align California three strikes law with NZ

September 13th, 2012 at 2:27 pm by David Farrar

New America Media reports:

 Supporters of Proposition 36 are optimistic that changing attitudes toward prison reform, coupled with economic considerations, will have Californians voting in favor of tempering their state’s controversial repeat offender law, known as “ and You’re Out,” in the upcoming November election.

“Popular support has always been high for reforming Three Strikes,” says Prop. 36 advocate Geri Silva, director and co-founder of the Los Angeles-based Families to Amend California’s Three Strikes. “People realize that sending someone to prison for life for stealing a donut is absurd.” 

Backers of Prop.36 had no trouble gathering the 504,760 signatures required by law to get their measure on the state ballot – about 800,000 people signed the petition — and a recent statewide survey conducted by Pepperdine University’s policy school shows 78.1 percent of likely voters supporting it. …

Proposition 184 imposed a mandatory 25 years to life prison sentence for anyone in the state convicted of a third felony, including non-violent offenses like drug possession and theft. 

Today, twenty-six other states have similar sentencing laws on the books, but California’s Three Strikes law is widely considered one of the most severe.  …

Proposition 36 would amend Three Strikes by imposing a 25 years to life sentence only if the third conviction is for a serious or violent felony.

The mandatory 25 to life sentence would still be invoked, however, for any third felony conviction if the individual also has a previous conviction for murder, rape or child molestation. 

Under Prop.36, those with two strikes would be sentenced to twice the usual time for their third conviction for a non-serious felony, in lieu of the life sentence. Some 3,000 California inmates currently serving a 25 to life term for non-serious or nonviolent third strikes would become eligible to petition judges for re-sentencing, if the measure is approved.

Proposition 36 would bring the California law closer to the NZ one. In NZ you only get a strike for serious violent or sexual offences, and the third strike is only for life without parole if you kill someone. Otherwise it is the maximum sentence without parole.

I think the NZ three strikes law is well balanced, and may become a model. It is a pity Labour wants to repeal it.

Proposition 36 is backed by three DAs, a law professor and a police chief and the California Democratic Party. It is opposed by  the president of the California State Sheriff’s Association,  the president of the California District Attorneys Association, the president of Crime Victims United of California, the president of the California Peace (Police) Officers Association, and the California Republican Party.

The vote is on 6 November 2012.

31 Responses to “A move to align California three strikes law with NZ”

  1. Bob R (1,826 comments) says:

    *** It is a pity Labour wants to repeal it.***

    Well, in fairness they don’t want their voters locked away.

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  2. Brian Smaller (4,332 comments) says:

    And here is me thinking it should be applied to property crime as well.

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  3. Kevin (988 comments) says:

    Its a pity their watering it down. NZ sentencing laws are still a joke – eg 3 years for killing an Indian granfather in road rage, and same judge (Potter) gave only 3 years for killing the Hawkes Bay school teacher. So in NZ you could kill (3 years), kill (3 years), assault (14 years max by 3 strikes). No wonder we’re a laughing stock with one of the highest crime rates in the OECD.

    At least the US is a civilised society and still has the death penalty for the worst killers.

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  4. Lee C (2,987 comments) says:

    Balanced eh? It’s like lawmaking by MacDonalds, fast, uncritical, and essentially bad for you.

    “Judges have no discretion to take the gravity of the offending into account in third strike cases, and parole boards have no discretion to take into account an offender’s progress in prison in second and third strike cases. The law overrides them. To me, this amounts to a vote of no confidence in the judiciary and in the parole board.” Greg Newbold: http://www.starcanterbury.co.nz/news/concern-three-strikes-law/1541444/

    In ten years or so it will be amended – mind you, what we get now isn;t much saner.

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  5. Weihana (5,393 comments) says:


    Ugh.. there is nothing civilized about execution. A civilized judicial system acknowledges that it is prone to error. Execution exemplifies the attitude that error is impossible. Moreover, I would argue that killing is fundamentally uncivilized and is only ever justified in self-defense or the defense of others.

    You are right though that many sentences are a joke. People get killed and the sentencing is a few years. Whilst non-violent offences such as manufacturing drugs can result in sentences in excess of 10 years. It’s ridiculous.

    Sentencing should be strengthened for individual crimes in a manner that is suitable to the crime. There is no need to adopt simplistic sentencing procedures and barbaric practices like execution. Indeed there is no need to wait three times until someone is sentenced properly for a violent crime.

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  6. hmmokrightitis (1,910 comments) says:

    Lee C, Ive always found the easiest way to avoid ANY strikes is to not break the law. Then you dont end up in court. I know, radical huh?

    Yay, judges have no discretion. Frankly, Mr Newbold, I dont give a shit. And yes, it probably is a vote of no confidence. Im good with that too. As a crim, you commit more than one serious crime, you can stop being a member of our society for a long time, Im good with that.

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  7. KH (707 comments) says:

    Geri Silva above lies when he says , “People realize that sending someone to prison for life for stealing a donut is absurd.” It doesn’t happen and he ‘forgets’ to tell you that there may have been transgressions prior to the donut.
    That said our law is better than California’s.
    Where we need to tighten up though is on the availability of preventative detention. There are many (the beast and other) who clearly remain a danger but who are not in prison indefinitely. It’s a nonsense that someone because he is clearly recognised as such a danger is confined to a house shifted onto prison grounds, with absurdly expensive special minders. The judge should be able to direct prison confinement.

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  8. David Garrett (10,970 comments) says:

    It will be interesting to see how this goes in Calif. The same amendment was tried about seven years ago and it was defeated – interestingly the counties which rejected it by the greatest margin were poor black counties, where the residents had seen the benefits of the 3S law for themselves. It is not widely known that the communities which are most subject to crime – both violent and property – are poor communities, and victims are more often than not young black men rather than middle aged white guys or women. Exactly the same is true here if you substitute Otara for Oakland, and Maori for black.

    I am surprised and disappointed that the best Newbold can do is recycle the same discredited arguments that were put up in California almost 20 years ago when 3S was enacted there – uncontrollable inmates; homicides on prison officers and police increasing; explosion of prisoner numbers; no effect on crime rates. None of those were proven correct.

    Yes, even the increase of prisoner numbers. Several independent studies – i.e by state agencies rather than academics finding evidence to fit their argument – have shown that the impact of 3S on increased prisoner numbers in Calif. was negligible, far less than a 30% increase in population over the 15 years since 3S was enacted in Calif. A high percentage of that increase were illegal Mexicans immigrants.

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  9. David Garrett (10,970 comments) says:

    KH: Geri Silva is a woman. When I first met her I thought she was pretty middle of the road, but she is actually hard left – disagrees with mandatory sentencing in any circumstances. She did say though, referring to our version of 3S, “compared with ours, yours is wonderful.” She later tried to deny saying that, but I still have the e-mail. Unfortunately for Geri, it’s on FACTS letterhead.

    Having said all of that, I DO believe the Calif. law goes too far. I am on record on numerous occasions as saying that, including at each reading of the Bill in Parliament. Our law was deliberately crafted to avoid some of the situations Geri told me about. Under our law, none of the horror stories cited by FACTS and other US lobby groups can happen. The way the law is drafted simply makes it impossible.

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  10. Kevin (988 comments) says:

    There are very humane methods of euthanasia these days and some cases are indisputable.

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  11. David Garrett (10,970 comments) says:

    One stat in the main post is interesting: 3000 inmates in Calif. serving time for third strikes for non violent felonies. California’s prison population is about 170,000…3000 of whom would be affected by this change. As the Yanks say “you do the math”

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  12. rg (215 comments) says:

    It was the ACT Party which fought for the 3 strikes law wasn’t it? I wonder what the people of Wanganui feel about it?

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  13. David Garrett (10,970 comments) says:

    rg: Yes, it was ACT that got it passed…perhaps I am suffering from what used to be called “spring fever” but I am not sure what your mean about the people of Wanganui…Wilson being released has got absolutely nothing to do with three strikes…

    And where has that “Lee C” chap gone? He normally thinks he knows a lot…

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  14. Nostalgia-NZ (6,430 comments) says:

    I was more interested to read about the 20 year old who may yet get a 3rd strike for a prison assault. From the report last weekend it seems he’s been on a slippery slope for sometime, arguably fallen through the net. There was something odd about his second offence in that the victim stabbed the attackers a number of times giving an impression that he wasn’t possibility any different than his attackers and seemed to move in the same circles. So on that basis one can see the arguments against taking away a Judge’s discretion when sentencing on the ‘strikes.’ There is something haphazard about undermining Judges in this way, or even in it’s narrower form of taking from the bench the reasonable opportunity of assessments of each of the strikes, rather than something mandatory on the 3rd. That seems quite backward when to this point there is little evidence to suggest that offenders understand the peril to them of the 3 strikes regimen, or even which offences to which it applies. I think in the future there may be reasonable tests on the fairness of the application of 3 strikes.

    As noted a few months ago, there seems to be a window suggesting that Judges may go lighter on a second strike sentence. I don’t know if there was a further answer to that.

    Newbold has dramatised things a little but what strikes me is how we are beginning to see the law working. I don’t think the predictions would have been that a 20 year old could be the first striker. All though I didn’t follow it closely at the time I think the profiles of those to be ‘captured’ were seasoned hard nuts. Of course, as always, is the financial cost. I can recall Caliafornia apparently drowning in debt in recent years.

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  15. David Garrett (10,970 comments) says:

    About three sentences of that make sense…My I politely suggest you do a little research on the proportion of “strikers” of the Calif. prison poplulation as a whole? You wont like what you find, but do it anyway darling…

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  16. gump (2,336 comments) says:

    The fact that we haven’t yet seen a three strike sentence handed down is perhaps the strongest evidence that the law was properly drafted. Three strike convictions should be well publicized and rare.

    Kudos to David Garrett. He did a good job with this legislation.

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  17. Nostalgia-NZ (6,430 comments) says:

    I was talking about NZ. The headlines last weekend in one of the Sunday papers.

    As for the ‘darling’ bit I thought you worked on oil rigs not in the cooks and stewards union, but at least your inclinations are legal these days and you obviously have good taste.

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  18. KH (707 comments) says:

    One would hope that three strikes occur infrequently because those on two get the message and pull their own heads in.
    For those stupid enough not too. Well the door slamming shut is a good thing. It’s their decision actually. Not ours.
    We also get recidivist drunk drivers with multiple convictions. If they can’t get it they need to be inside.
    Does nothing at all for them. But that’s not the point.
    They absolutely need to be off the road for the safety of us. And they have shown there is no other way.

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  19. Lee C (2,987 comments) says:

    Mr. G. I’m no expert or anything, like you are, but didn’t the introduction of the Three strikes legislation, as it couldn’t be applied retrospectively give a ‘clean slate’ to every violent reoffender in the country?

    After its introduction, because of the risk of proportionality of the third strike, didn’t it mean that judges were more likely to sway towards more lenient sentences when they considered the longer-term view?

    What of the claim that under a Three Strikes system violent criminals are more likely to commit murder on their third offense to avoid capture, or more likely to kill prison officers if they have nothing to lose?

    Then I beg you to consider the notion that Three Strikes will cost us more money as it encourages prisoners in a zero-sum situation to opt for costly, drawn out jury and appeal options to avoid conviction?

    Then what of the fact that none of the four worst offenders in recent history, Bell, Burton, Reid and Baker would have been in the three strikes category. SImply it wouldn’t have saved a single life here?

    Finally, isnt it the case that Three Strikes, only applies to very few serious repeat violent offenders, who would have likely been sentenced to similar imprisonment under previously legislation?

    I’m going out for a beer. Don’t wait up.

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  20. Lee C (2,987 comments) says:

    ps Human Right people and the UN think it;s a crock too.

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  21. hmmokrightitis (1,910 comments) says:

    What better confirmation that the law is just about right could you possibly ask for then.

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  22. Nostalgia-NZ (6,430 comments) says:

    Not one studied from another which now there are efforts to amend. ‘Just about right’ defines why there are arguments continuing against it. ‘Just about right’ law is not good law.

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  23. Kevin (988 comments) says:

    The 20 year old mentioned above probably started crime in his pre teens and clocked up a 100 convictions before he was sent away – thats what our crims do too.

    Yes i agree, being able to kill, rape or maim three times before you get a proper sentence is just about right.

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  24. Nostalgia-NZ (6,430 comments) says:


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  25. jedmo (43 comments) says:

    More kudos DG, for bringing this in. I also appreciate you coming on these forums to explain and background these and other issue(s).

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  26. UpandComer (664 comments) says:

    Always amused by the Orangutans who think the present California 3 strikes law is just, measured, or an effective use of state resources.


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  27. David Garrett (10,970 comments) says:

    “the United Nations thinks it’s a crock”…What do you young chaps say? Bwaaa haaaaa haaaa!! The United Nations, that bastion of democracy, freedom and justice…

    Kevin: Not quite. Our front runner for being third striker number one hasn’t killed anyone yet. His most serious offence to date is agg robbery. If he is convicted of his current offence – committed in jail on another inmate while serving time for his second strike – he will do ten years non parole. If he comes out and commits another agg rob it will be 14 years non parole. While nothing can prevent him from graduating to killer, he wont ever get the chance to rack up 100 convictions as was the case pre 3S.

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  28. pq (728 comments) says:

    I have a definite opinion that Judges should have wide range .
    I do not want absolute guidelines.
    Sometimes it needs to be recognised that criminal actions are from deranged minds.
    ACt party completely missed the boat here , in their switch away, and also Stephen Franks
    People can see for themselves that David Farrar can make serious criticism about Judges.
    He can say what he likes, Society judges judges every day


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  29. Lee C (2,987 comments) says:

    Mr. G. – As you are aware, ‘Thinking you know’ something isn’t the same as knowing it, but I fear you inadvertently betrayed a tendency to confuse the two.

    ie.: “Bwaaa haaaaa haaaa!! ” ?!? Is that, like, out of a dictionary?

    To think I so underestimated your acuity* that I nearly didn’t have that third beer, because I thought I might need my wits about me.

    Little joke for you.

    A tortoise visited New York and found himself in a poorer ‘hood. Lost in an alley, he was attacked by four snails, who emerged from the shadows and roughed him over, turned him upside down and stole his wallet.
    When the NYPD arrived they got paramedics, put a blanket around him and then tried to get a witness statement.
    They asked the tortoise if he could describe his attackers.
    “I don’t know” he replied “it all happened so quickly.”

    What I’m saying is, life is so like that – It’s not so much how much you think you know, rather than how much you actually know relative to others. By reducing things down to what you think you know, doesn’t render one superior in knowledge, but rather indicates a deficit of it. ‘Three Strikes’ – perfect example. Lazy, reductionistic, populist, essentially, a sound byte.

    Like it or not, this kind of ‘pop-politics’ is merely the mirror-image of Sue Bradford’s ‘Anti-smacking’ Law. It too is based on the premise you can change human behaviour by ‘exposing’ and threatening to punish wrongdoers in the name of ‘protecting’ the good. It’s misrepresenting the nature of criminality and selling the public a snake-oil suggesting that only by electing certain people can they continue to be ‘safe’. Politically self-serving, misrepresentative and dangerous. Because, as you (i think) know, if ‘wrongdoers’ gave a flying one about ‘laws’ and ‘punishment’. That’s would not be ‘wrongdoers’ in the first place.

    (* keenness or acuteness, esp. in vision or thought).

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  30. seanmaitland (513 comments) says:

    Lee C – a bit wrong there – this law is also about locking people away so they don’t have a chance to hurt the general populous – Anti-Smacking was purely about controlling the population.

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  31. Lee C (2,987 comments) says:

    Sorry Sean – the point I’m making is under our MMP system, badly considered legislation can be formulated for ideological reasons and get through under ‘confidence and supply’ or to promote personal agendas by politicians who say they are dedicated to promoting ‘public safety’ . What they are really promoting is a fearfulness of a self-created ‘enemy within’ in the population in the hope it will translate as positive votes for themselves.

    And refer to previous points. Of those people were already being locked away under previous legislation I understand that none of the top twenty public enemies that have outraged public opinion recently would have been stopped by “Three Strikes’.

    I think Three Strikes is one of those ideas that seems brilliantly simple and effective on the face of it, but in the actual analysis of it makes little difference. Ask any Prison Officer, who is probably in more personal danger now than he was prior to the law. .

    Three Strikes (funnily enough so does teh antismacking law) claims it can produce a result that is impossible to analyse – about the non-creation of something that didn’t happen. If you follow me.

    Even if I were to claim it was successful that would have to be on the basis of a falsehood – I’d have to point to a lack of a murder as ‘proof’ that my law ’caused’ it to not happen. Politically I could claim this until the cows came home. But if a murder does happen I might turn around and say this ‘proves’ my law is necessary. Because there are still dangerous criminals out there! So vote for me!! Those nasty wet-liberals are killing our good people – I’ll ‘protect you!! etc etc.

    So what we get then is a sense of smug-self congratulation, coupled with a whiff of condescension on the basis that the person doing it is so self-deluded they can’t see the central logical flaws in the situation they have created.

    They achieve this sense of hubris when they claim that this law has reduced the likelihood that any number of unspecified evils will befall your loved ones, because they are always going to get grateful applause from people when they are stirred into a sufficient frenzy of fear to be grateful for even such patently mythical assurances.

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