CHOOSE1’s Three Strikes Reform Act needs 500,000 signatures by July 17 to make the November ballot

by Forrest Lee Jones

In late December, CHOOSE1, a grassroots, non-profit organization, received approval to begin gathering signatures to have the Three Strikes Reform Act of 2016 placed on the November 2016 election ballot. The California Attorney General’s Office has given CHOOSE1 until June 17 to gather signatures from registered voters to qualify the initiative.

An advocate for the CHOOSE1 Three Strikes Reform Act of 2016 speaks out on Channel 5.
An advocate for the CHOOSE1 Three Strikes Reform Act of 2016 speaks out on Channel 5.

The goal is 500,000 signatures to ensure enough are gathered to meet statutory requirements. According to California ballot measures, “The total number of signatures required for initiative statutes is 365,880.”

“I am excited to see another attempt to further chip away at the terrible three strikes law that has put thousands of people away for decades, while costing taxpayers billions of dollars,” says Emily Harris of Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.

The proposed initiative would make two changes to the state’s existing Three Strikes Law. First, serious and violent felonies committed before the law was enacted will no longer be considered when courts are deciding to sentence an offender for a second or third strike.

Second, the law will remove “criminal threats” of violence from the list of felonies that are considered serious under state law.

“I am excited to see another attempt to further chip away at the terrible three strikes law that has put thousands of people away for decades, while costing taxpayers billions of dollars,” says Emily Harris of Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.

When the Three Strikes law was enacted in 1994, prior felony convictions were applied retroactively. Offenders convicted of new crimes with prior convictions dating back 5, 10, 15 or even 30 years were immediately subjected to sentencing under the new law.

For many offenders, their prior felony convictions were the subject of plea bargains. At the time, they were informed that they would be sentenced for a specified amount of time with an one- to five-year enhancement for any future conviction which would not result in a life sentence.

Prisoners such as Tolbert Williams, who received 50 years to life for having in his possession two stolen mini-speakers, and Michael Williams, who received 35 years to life for a verbal threat, would become eligible for relief if the initiative is voted in.

Julie Piccolotti, a proponent of the initiative, said she believes the current Three Strikes law is wrong because it re-punishes offenders for felony convictions, which is a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment Double Jeopardy Clause.

Piccolotti said she believes the current Three Strikes law should have never been applied retroactively to prior felony convictions that predate its enactment. She said in particular because many offenders’ priors were plea agreements, in which they agreed to serve a specified amount of time for committing a new offense that did not include a life term.

Julie Piccolotti, a proponent of the initiative, said she believes the current Three Strikes law is wrong because it re-punishes offenders for felony convictions, which is a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment Double Jeopardy Clause.

The Three Strikes Reform Act of 2016 seeks to correct errors in the law. According to the Legislative Analyst Office, the ballot measure will save the state hundreds of millions of dollars by resentencing individuals currently imprisoned under a third strike sentence.

Many third-strike offenders that have felony convictions prior to March 1994 have now served 20 years or longer behind bars and are now between the ages of 37 and 60 years old. Many of these offenders have rehabilitated themselves and some are medically incapacitated.

The Three Strikes Reform Act of 2016 seeks to correct errors in the law.

Studies show striker prisoners in this population demographic are less of a threat to public safety.

An April 2014 study by the Stanford Three Strikes Project and NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund on the progress of Proposition 36 resentencing and release of prisoners found that the recidivism rate of those released after being resentenced is only 1.3 percent. Proponents of Proposition 36 attribute its low recidivism rate to several factors: age and time served.

According to Californians for Safety and Justice’s post-election survey on Proposition 36, voters show overwhelming support for the ballot measure that cuts across party lines with broad support for future reforms.

Diana Zuniga of Californians United for a Responsible Budget said its member organizations have continued to “fight against California’s Three Strikes Law and one day repealing the law all together.”

With a national trend by conservatives and liberals, including President Barack Obama, for reform of the criminal justice system, CHOOSE1 and other organizations believe this is the right time to once again amend California’s Three Strikes law.

Diana Zuniga of Californians United for a Responsible Budget said its member organizations have continued to “fight against California’s Three Strikes Law and one day repealing the law all together.”

Send our brother some love and light: Forrest Lee Jones, E-89706, 4-W-4L, San Quentin State Prison, San Quentin CA 94964. Contact Choose1 at 80 Cabrillo Hwy. N., Suite Q 609, Half Moon Bay, CA 94019, or choose1initiative@gmail.com.