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Election 2012: State Proposition Guide

Produced by KQED News and The California Report

Proposition 36

Revises the Three Strikes Law

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

At a Glance

  • Proposition 36 revises criminal penalties so people convicted of a third-strike felony will receive a life sentence only when the crime was serious or violent.
  • It maintains life sentences for felons with non-serious, non-violent third strike convictions if prior convictions were for rape, murder or child molestation.
  • Current prisoners convicted of a non-serious, non-violent third-strike felony could apply for a reduced sentence.
  • Budget Impact: The Legislative Analyst's Office estimates the resentencing trials would cost a few million dollars over several years. However, that would be more than offset by $70 to $90 million annual savings.


  • This Proposition
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In 1994, voters passed Proposition 184, the Three Strikes law. It changed the sentencing for anyone convicted of a felony who also has a previous violent or serious felony conviction.

What's a Violent or Serious Felony?

Violent felonies include murder, robbery and rape. Most violent felonies are considered serious. But there are other felonies, such as non-confrontational residential burglary, that are considered serious, but not violent. Then there are felonies that are neither violent nor serious, such as stealing a car or possessing illegal drugs, not including marijuana.

How Three Strikes Currently Works

If a person has previously been convicted of a violent or serious felony and is convicted of a new felony, the court can decide to sentence them under the Three Strikes law.

  • Second strike offense — the sentence for any new felony conviction (not just serious or violent) doubles the normal term. So a mandatory four-year sentence becomes eight years.
  • Third strike offense — if a person has two or more previous serious or violent felony convictions then the sentence for any new felony (not just serious or violent) is a life term with the possibility of parole after 25 years. In March 2012, about 9,000 California prison inmates were third-strikers, according to the Legislative Analyst's Office.
What Proposition 36 Changes

The measure reduces the sentence for a third-strike felony that's non-serious and non-violent from life in prison, to a prison sentence that is twice the usual term. About a third of current three-strikers would be eligible to apply for a reduced sentence.


People convicted of certain third felonies related to drugs, sex or guns would still be subject to a life sentence. People with prior convictions for rape, murder or child molestation would also be subject to a life sentence.

The Cost

Prisoners who currently face life in prison because of a non-violent, non-serious third felony could apply for a reduced sentence. But they would still be required to serve double the normal sentence for their crime.

The LAO estimates that the resentencing trials would cost a few million dollars over several years. However, that would be more than offset by $70 to $90 million annual savings from shortening some prison stays.

Arguments For and Against:

Supporters say...

the measure makes the punishment fit the crime. It would also save California millions of dollars annually and help with prison overcrowding.

Stanford Law School Professor David Mills drafted the measure with lawyers from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, in consultation with law enforcement officials. The District Attorneys in San Francisco and Santa Clara support the measure. Major financial backers include David Mills, the NAACP and George Soros.

Opponents say...

the measure reduces prison sentences and could release criminals with previous violent felonies. They also argue that the measure is unnecessary as judges already have some leeway in deciding when to apply Three Strikes.

Most law enforcement organizations are against the measure, including: the California Police Chiefs Association, California State Sheriff's Association, California District Attorneys Association and Los Angeles Police Protective League. The Peace Officers Research Association of California is the main financial backer of the opposition campaign.