NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


January 24, 2007

The U.S. Supreme Court's decision striking down California's criminal sentencing rules may cause disruptions, but it could be a blessing in disguise as the state grapples with severely overcrowded prisons, say observers.


  • There were just under a quarter-million felony convictions in the state in 2005, and the state prison system is 70 percent over capacity.
  • Overall, the change in law means about 10,000 of 173,000 California inmates are eligible for reduced terms.

In defending its sentencing law, the state warned that its criminal justice system would be burdened by having to re-sentence thousands of inmates.  But others say the change is long overdue.  California has the strictest sentencing rules in the country; under the three strikes law, for instance, some inmates are serving life terms for petty crimes, such as shoplifting.

But now that reform has been made, the task turns to forming a news system, say observers.  Many are looking to limit judges role in sentencing, some of the ideas include:

  • Increase jurors' roles by expanding the use of two-step trials in which a jury first determines guilt, then settles on a sentence.
  • Another option would be to scrap the Determinate Sentencing Law, which was enacted in part to bring uniformity to sentences, in favor of law based more on circumstance. 

Source: David Kravets, "Court Strikes Down CA's Sentencing Rules,", January 23, 2007.


Browse more articles on Government Issues