HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html California Rethinking '3-Strikes' Sentencing
Pubdate: Sun, 24 Oct 2004
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2004 The New York Times Company
Author: Dean E. Murphy
Bookmark: (Lewis, Peter)
Bookmark: (Soros, George)
Bookmark: (Sperling, John)


SAN FRANCISCO, Oct. 23 - Public outrage over the murder of Polly Klaas, a 
12-year-old who had been kidnapped from her bedroom by a man who had 
repeatedly committed violent crimes, was the driving force behind 
California's passage 10 years ago of the country's harshest "three strikes" 
sentencing law.

Now the Klaas family is at the center of an election battle over an 
initiative that would significantly scale back parts of the 1994 law. This 
time, Polly's father and grandfather are on opposite sides of an 
impassioned campaign that criminal justice experts say reflects a broad 
rethinking of the nation's tough-on-crime legislation of a decade ago.

"The politics of crime and punishment has calmed down," said Franklin 
Zimring, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and 
author of a book about the three-strikes law. "It isn't that people are 
less punitive; they are less concerned."

One of the most significant changes proposed in the ballot measure, known 
as Proposition 66, would put California more in line with the 24 other 
states that have three-strikes laws. The change would restrict so-called 
third-strike offenses for repeated felons, which require a 25-year-to-life 
sentence, to serious or violent crimes.

Currently, even crimes not defined as serious or violent can count as a 
third strike, leading to instances in which multiple offenders have 
received the maximum penalty for committing crimes like shoplifting or 
possessing small amounts of narcotics. Last year, the United States Supreme 
Court rejected constitutional challenges to sentences of 25 years without 
parole for a man who stole three golf clubs from a pro shop and 50 years 
without parole for another man for stealing children's videotapes from a 
Kmart store.

The changes proposed in Proposition 66 infuriate Polly Klaas's father, Marc 
Klaas, founder of the KlaasKids Foundation, a nonprofit group that focuses 
on crimes against children. He appears in a television advertisement, 
expected to be broadcast next week, which features a rape victim worrying 
about her rapist's going free under Proposition 66.

"I don't want my family legacy to have anything to do with this," Mr. Klaas 
said in a telephone interview. He said he was so angry about his father's 
involvement on the proponents' side that he forbade him from using Polly's 
name in the campaign.

"For them to use this, our family tragedy, for their own political agenda 
is just terribly unfair," he said. "I think my father has made a huge 
mistake here. I don't know. It may even be an unforgivable mistake here, 
quite frankly. I just can't believe my father is allowing himself to be the 
token victim in this."

His father, Joe Klaas, 84, said the proposed revisions were long overdue 
and in the interest of justice. While honoring his son's request not to 
invoke his granddaughter's name, Joe Klaas has emerged as the most 
listened-to proponent of the ballot measure, in large part because of his 
family's suffering from Polly's kidnapping and murder in 1993. A campaign 
official described him as a "stud grandpa" who has been tirelessly flying 
across the state.

"The three-strikes law needs fixing," the elder Mr. Klaas said. "Everybody 
thought they were voting to put violent criminals away. It has taken 10 
years to get the word out and educate the public."

The Klaas family schism mirrors a philosophical divide across California 
over the three-strikes law as an array of liberal advocacy and criminal 
justice groups, backed by money from people like George Soros, clash with 
law enforcement officials, the measure's main opponents.

Mr. Soros, the philanthropist and financier, has contributed $150,000 to 
the campaign, as have both Peter B. Lewis, chairman of the Progressive 
Corporation insurance company, and John G. Sperling, founder of the 
University of Phoenix. The three also supported a successful ballot measure 
in 2000, which requires many nonviolent drug offenders to be sent into 
treatment instead of prison.

The biggest donor has been a Sacramento businessman, Jerry Keenan, who 
contributed $1.9 million toward the signature-gathering effort and $800,000 
toward the initiative's passage, according to campaign finance reports. Mr. 
Keenan's son, Richard, is serving an eight-year prison term for vehicular 
manslaughter stemming from the deaths of two of his passengers when he 
crashed his car in 1999 after drinking beer and smoking marijuana. Though 
application of the law to his case is complicated, it is possible Richard 
Keenan's sentence would be reduced if Proposition 66 passes.

On the other side, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Attorney General Bill 
Lockyer and every district attorney in the state have lined up in defense 
of the existing statute. The politically influential correctional officers' 
union also backs the law, having donated $150,000 to the cause.

Opponents argue that the law has contributed to the steep decline in crime 
across the state since 1994. Though prosecutors have the discretion to 
invoke the law, they say they need that option to lock up dangerous 
criminals, even those caught for relatively minor crimes. The law has been 
applied sporadically and unevenly, with some counties, like San Francisco, 
virtually ignoring it, and others, like Fresno County, relying more heavily 
upon it, but none of the state's 58 district attorneys want to forfeit it.

In a campaign appearance on Wednesday, Mr. Schwarzenegger said Proposition 
66 "is a danger to public safety and it threatens our neighborhoods." In a 
Republican Party voting guide mailed this week, defeating Proposition 66 
was listed as one of Mr. Schwarzenegger's top election priorities.

But even with the popular governor against it, opinion polls show passage 
of the measure leading among likely voters of both parties. A Field Poll 
early this month indicated the measure was comfortably ahead, with the 
support of 65 percent of likely voters. A recent Los Angeles Times poll put 
support at 3 to 1.

Professor Zimring said the surveys pointed to a remarkable shift in public 
perceptions about a law that only a few years ago was considered 
politically off limits. Though critics have long argued the law was flawed, 
too costly and overreaching, tinkering with it in the crime-sensitive 
1990's was out of the question.

"Any two-sided debate about three strikes is a real novelty in California," 
Professor Zimring said. "The fact that we are having this kind of 
conversation is already evidence of an enormous sea change in criminal 

While most attention in the Proposition 66 campaign has focused on 
so-called third-strikers - the felons convicted of a third offense - data 
compiled by the Policy and Evaluation Division of the Department of 
Corrections show the 1994 law has had a greater impact on second-strike 

The law doubled the sentences of second-strikers and made it more difficult 
for them to qualify for parole. The data show that of the 42,920 inmates 
serving sentences under the three-strikes law as of June 30, 35,462 were 

Proposition 66 would make life easier for some of the second-strikers. The 
requirement that third-strike offenses be serious or violent felonies would 
also apply to second-strike offenses. The measure would reduce the number 
of felonies considered as violent or serious. Taken off the list would be 
crimes like burglary of an unoccupied residence and taking part in felonies 
committed by a criminal street gang.

Mr. Schwarzenegger and other opponents of the measure have focused on a 
provision that would apply the law retroactively to prisoners serving an 
indeterminate life sentence for crimes that were not violent or serious. 
Proponents estimate passage of the measure would lead to the 
reconsideration of 4,000 or so sentences, while opponents suggest as many 
as 26,000 prisoners, including many convicted on second strikes, could be 
eligible for early release.

Marc Klaas calls the retroactive provision a "get-out-of-jail-free card" 
for some of the state's most hardened criminals. He said many residents 
feared that released criminals could strike again.

"Each one of these fellows is going to move next door to somebody," he 
said. "My father lives in a gated community. None of these guys are going 
to end up next to him. But I don't live in a gated community and most 
people don't."

The elder Mr. Klaas said opponents were using scare tactics by raising the 
specter of criminals on the loose.

"I am not worried about one of them moving in next to him," Joe Klaas said 
of his son, "because all along we have been talking about nonviolent 
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake