Peter Y. Hong, Times Staff Writer
Copyright 2006 Los Angeles Times
All Rights Reserved
Los Angeles Police Department Chief William J. Bratton and Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca have joined an effort to rein in California's three strikes sentencing law.
Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley, who is pushing a ballot initiative to soften the tough law, said at a news conference Thursday that he had won the chiefs' backing.
Also at the conference, State Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles) announced she had introduced a bill to put three strikes reform before voters in November.
Cooley has long criticized the breadth of the state's law, which sometimes results in sentences of 25 years to life for those whose third strikes were nonviolent or minor crimes. His ballot initiative, coauthored with defense lawyer Brian Dunn, would limit third strikes in most cases to violent or serious offenses.
Bratton, through a spokesman, called the proposal "a balanced approach that will benefit the criminal justice system without jeopardizing public safety."
Romero said passage of her bill would place the same reform proposal on the ballot for voters to decide, independent of the petition drive, which needs 374,000 signatures to qualify.
"It is what I believe voters intended when they passed the three strikes law in 1994," she said of the move to limit third strikes to violent or serious offenses.
Baca said he generally favors three strikes reform, but will wait to read the final ballot language before endorsing any measure.
He said he backs Romero's legislative effort because he believes the matter should be debated by legislators rather than determined by a petition drive.
Cooley and Baca had opposed an earlier three strikes initiative, which would have sharply restricted the law and eliminated some crimes as potential strikes. The measure, Proposition 66, was narrowly defeated by voters in 2004. Bratton could not recall whether he took a position.
Cooley's proposed initiative does not attempt to redefine first and second strikes and will likely make fewer inmates subject to re-sentencing. "This is a much narrower, focused effort," Cooley said.
LAPD Deputy Chief Richard Roupoli, speaking at the news conference on Bratton's behalf, noted that the proposed reforms would still deal those previously convicted of murder, child molestation or rape a third strike for a nonviolent offense.
Cooley said while Los Angeles and San Francisco counties only use three strikes against violent offenders, the policy should be uniform.
"It's great if it happens most of the time," Cooley said. "But when you write something down and make it a law, you make sure it happens all the time."
Romero's bill must pass both houses and be signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger by August for the initiative to make the November ballot.
Schwarzenegger opposed Prop. 66. A spokesperson said he has no position on Romero's bill.
March 3, 2006
Calif. LE support attempts to reform three strikes law