NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Study Disputes Effectiveness Of "Three Strikes" Law

November 13, 1998

Only two states are making much use of "three strikes" laws, which require life sentences for repeat violent offenders, claims the Campaign for an Effective Crime Policy. When used, they aren't cost-effective and punish mostly defendants in their 30s who were ending their criminal careers, concludes a study released by the group yesterday and authored by Walter Dickey, a law professor at the University of Wisconsin.

Dickey says that most jurisdictions use the mandatory sentencing laws sparingly because of concern about the long-term cost of locking them up and the jury trials certain to follow when defendants are charged under the law. Instead of plea- bargaining, a defendant facing a third conviction is almost certain to request a trial.

  • Washington was the first state to enact the three strikes law in 1993, followed by 22 other states from 1994 to 1996; Congress passed a federal version in 1994.
  • California convictions can be for any one of 500 felonies, and carry a minimum sentence of 25 years to life.
  • One-third of all the enhanced sentences in California were for nonviolent offenses.

As of July 30, 1998, California had convicted 4,468 offenders under its 1994 law; through August, Nevada recorded 164 third- strike sentences and Washington state 121; through June Florida recorded 116. And through 1996, only 35 had been sentenced to life imprisonment under the federal law.

Georgia actually has a two-strikes law, with the first conviction for a few specified felonies earning a minimum of 10 years without parole and a second conviction earning life without parole. As of March 31, there were 942 second convictions.

However, defenders of the law say it has contributed to the 30 percent drop in serious crime reported nationwide since 1994. "Criminals hate it, (and) their attorneys hate it," says Mike Reynolds, who spearheaded the drive for the California law after his daughter was murdered by a five-time felon.

Source: Martin Kasindorf, "'3-Strikes' Law Catch on in Only 2 States, Crime Policy Study Says," USA Today, November 13, 1998.


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