California voters overwhelmingly approved changes to the state’s tough “three strikes” law on Tuesday, ending a practice in which prosecutors could seek 25-years-to-life sentences for defendants even if their latest offense – their third strike – was neither serious nor violent. The law, approved by state voters in 2004, aimed to lock up career criminals like Richard Allen Davis, who a year earlier had kidnapped and murdered 12-year-old Polly Klaas of Petaluma after an earlier string of assaults, robberies and abductions. But the law came under criticism when lesser offenders – a man who stole a truck and two bikes at Stanford, for instance, and another who stole a pepperoni pizza in Southern California – got 25-years-to-life sentences. The change in the law will allow an estimated 2,800 third-strike inmates currently in prison to petition the courts for a reduced sentence, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office, and prevent an untold number of people from being charged with a third strike in the future. Proponents said Prop. 36 restored voters’ original intent: to lock up the worst serial criminals. San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón, a co-chair of the Prop. 36 campaign, said the measure’s passage would not only save money and allow nonviolent offenders to avoid spending the rest of their lives in prison, but also change the conversation in California.
With its passage, voters sent “a strong message to policymakers about what is considered acceptable to maintain public safety,” he said.