California Supreme Court Stops Three-Time Offenders From Being Released Early

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Anders Hagstrom Justice Reporter
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California’s Supreme Court gave the state’s judges wide authority to refuse to shorten sentences from “three-strike” offenders under a new law, media reported Tuesday.

California passed propositions 36 and 47 in 2012 and 2014 in an effort to reduce the state’s prison population, ordering judges to reduce sentences for three-time offenders if their third offense was both minor and non-violent. The 4-3 court ruling removed a stipulation that, before refusing to shorten a sentence, Judges must show that an offender poses an unreasonable risk of crimes punishable by life in prison or the death penalty, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.

The court ruled that if the “life in prison or death penalty” test applied to three-strikers, it would “result in the release of more recidivist serious and/or violent offenders than had been originally contemplated under Proposition 36,” Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye wrote in the court majority opinion.

The case before the court involved two three-strike offenders, David Valencia and Clifford Paul Chaney, who had been refused the shortened sentences by state judges.

Valencia was convicted of striking his wife, kidnapping, and making criminal threats. Chaney had an armed robbery and three DUI convictions on his record.

Judges rejected the inmates’ reduced sentencing requests on the grounds that Valencia was a public safety risk to women and that Chaney was likely to drive under the influence again.

In order to consider the propositions, the court looked to ballot materials explaining the propositions to voters and determined that, “there is no indication that the legislative analyst or the attorney general were even aware that the measure might amend the resentencing criteria governing the Three Strikes Reform Act.”

Instead, judges can refuse to shorten sentences if they can show an offender poses an “unreasonable risk of danger to public safety,” a far less stringent test.

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