Sunday, May, 2, 2004

Proposed ‘Reform’ Would Put Felons on the Street

Rebuttal by Tony Rackauckas – “Reform” advocated by your editorial will return dangerous felons back onto to the street.

by Tony Rackauckas
Orange County District Attorney

As Orange County’s district attorney for five years, a judge for nine and a line prosecutor for 15, I believe the current “three-strikes” law is the most effective tool in identifying and prosecuting the most serious and violent career criminals who refuse to rehabilitate. The new “reform” advocated by your editorial April 18 [“Three-strikes progress”] will return dangerous felons back onto to the street.

The current “three-strikes” bill has a successful 10-year track record of keeping our community safe. The FBI reported that with “three strikes,” California’s crime rate has decreased by almost 33 percent while its population increased by 33 percent. The rest of the country only had a reduction of 13 percent in crime. The author of the current law, Mike Reynolds, states that 2 million Californians have been spared from becoming victims and Californians have saved $28.5 billion in pain and suffering because of the “three-strikes” system.

This new reform is being characterized as a compassionate law that would prevent injustices in sentencing while saving taxpayers money. The “reform” is in fact a Trojan horse supported by families of felons, criminal defense attorneys and social liberals. This misplaced compassion for felons would roll back California’s attempt to punish and incarcerate people who have earned their way to prison. Under the “reform,” six serious felonies would no longer be “strikes,” including residential burglaries, criminal threats, felony gang crimes and some felonies where great bodily injuries are inflicted. It would require the “third strike” to be serious or violent, no matter how heinous the priors may have been. The new law would also exclude an individual one day from his 18th birthday from earning a “strike” for kidnapping or assaulting with the intent to rape an elderly or disabled person.

Here is a real, recent Orange County example. A parolee was charged for transporting methamphetamine and possessing a loaded handgun. Under the new law, he would not be eligible for three strikes, even though this man had been to state prison five separate times for crimes including involuntary manslaughter and assault with a dangerous weapon. The judge who sentenced him stated that he was “just the sort of defendant for whom the three strikes was created.” He received 34 years to life instead of the 8-year maximum he might have received under the proposed new law.

Your editorial states that the initiative “should save California taxpayers $700,000 a year, which should be welcome during a budget crisis.” This is simply a fallacy. Not a single new prison has been built during the last 10 years since “three strikes” was enacted. In fact, fewer people are currently being incarcerated. Furthermore, according to the California legislative analyst, the new law would apply retroactively, so tens of millions of dollars would have to be spent by counties to reprocess and sentence most of these offenders. Three strikes almost did not pass until the brutal rape and murder of Polly Klaas. As a prosecutor and a father, I simply cannot put a price on keeping our community safe.

I am proud to join my fellow prosecutors in the California District Attorneys Association and public safety groups, such as Californians United for Public Safety, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Crime Victims United of California and Prevent Child Abuse California in keeping the current three strikes law.