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Three-Strikes Laws

May 10, 2002 • Volume 12, Issue 18
Are they too harsh?
By Patrick Marshall

Introduction

Ten-year-old Joanna Verduzco of Riverside, Calif., joins a protest organized by Families Against California Three Strikes in March at the Federal Building in Los Angeles. Because her father had two previous felony convictions, he was sentenced to 29-years-to-life in prison for his third felony, possession of less than a gram of methamphetamine.  (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
Ten-year-old Joanna Verduzco of Riverside, Calif., joins a protest organized by Families Against California Three Strikes in March at the Federal Building in Los Angeles. Because her father had two previous felony convictions, he was sentenced to 29-years-to-life in prison for his third felony, possession of less than a gram of methamphetamine. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

California's controversial three-strikes law sends repeat offenders to prison for 25-years-to-life for non-violent crimes like shoplifting. Although the California law is the nation's harshest, 24 other states have adopted similar laws in the past decade. In April, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to decide whether the law forces judges to mete out "cruel and unusual punishment," prohibited by the Constitution. The two cases the high court will review have become a lightning rod for debate over mandatory-sentencing policies adopted by the federal government and the states in drug-war crackdowns over the past 30 years. Advocates say such policies have cut crime, but critics say other reasons caused the decline. Meanwhile, several states have begun modifying their mandatory-sentencing laws to give judges more discretion in cases involving non-violent offenders.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Criminal Sentencing
Nov. 05, 2004  Sentencing Debates
May 10, 2002  Three-Strikes Laws
Feb. 12, 1999  Plea Bargaining
May 26, 1995  Mandatory Sentencing
Jun. 14, 1974  Plea Bargaining
Feb. 13, 1937  Probation, Reformation, and Parole
BROWSE RELATED TOPICS:
Drug Abuse
Sentencing and Corrections
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