Cases Show Disparity Of California's 3 Strikes Law
Professor Larry Marshall and the Stanford Clinical Defense Clinic were included in this three-part NPR series on Three Strikes mandatory sentencing in California:
California's three strikes law has imposed some very long sentences on some very dangerous people.
A third strike carries a sentence of 25 years to life and that sentence can be imposed for any felony, not just a violent one. Some people have challenged the law — but the results have been mixed.
The Stanford Clinic
"There's no question it was a setback; the result was very unfortunate," says Stanford Law professor Lawrence Marshall.
Marshall has established a clinic where Stanford law students work to win the release of nonviolent third strikers. So far, they have persuaded state courts to release five men from prison.
"The judges said that had they understood at the time of sentencing what we were now explaining about the nature of the offense and the background of the offender, that they should have recognized that it was a case that was outside the spirit of three strikes," Marshall says.
The Stanford clinic takes very few cases and the staff picks them very carefully. They haven't represented anyone whose previous strikes included a violent crime, and the third strikes are always for minor offenses.
Marshall wants to show the public what he views as the irrationality of the law. He cites an example.
"You've stolen some socks from a store — and that's a real case of ours — that were valued at a few dollars," he says. "We are going to now imprison you at a cost of $40,000 to $50,000 a year to make sure you don't steal some more socks."
Marshall hopes that publicizing such cases will lead to a change in the law.