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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Three strikes: the reason why Californians should be ashamed

Published: February 18, 2011
Section: Opinions

GRAPHIC BY Ariel Wittenberg/The Hoot

The American Criminal Justice system has many instances of injustice. What is currently going on in California as a result of the state’s “Three Strikes Law,” however, can only be classified as barbaric. Currently, California is imprisoning Rene Landa for 27 years to life for stealing a spare tire. George Michael Lane is serving 25 to life for possession of $40 of stolen jewelry that happened to be the property of his roommates. While both of these sentences are absurd, they pale in comparison to what happened to Santo Reyes. Incredibly, he is serving a life sentence for cheating on a driver’s license exam. They are not the only ones; there are hundreds, if not thousands, of people in California serving life sentences for misdemeanors and non-violent crimes.

The reason these cruel and unusual sentences are occurring is because of California’s “Three Strikes” Law, which mandates that each violent or “serious” offense a person commits counts as a strike. If a person were to get a second strike, their jail sentence is doubled. Far worse however, is what happens if that same person were to get a third strike. A third strike always results in a life sentence regardless of the crime, even if it would have normally been classified as a misdemeanor, or if the previous two strikes had occurred decades ago. Many other states have a similar law, however, only violent crimes such as murder, rape, and arson are usually counted as strikes. The problem with the law in California is that non-violent crimes such as possession of stolen property or drugs, and burglary count as “serious” crimes, and that strikes can be accumulated as a juvenile.

The story of Santo Reyes in particular illustrates what is wrong with the “Three Strikes Law.” Mr. Reyes got his first strike for committing Residential burglary as a minor, which meant that he did not receive a jury trial in relation to this crime. Santos then got his second strike five years later for committing robbery, even though he did not harm anyone during the robbery. After this, Santo Reyes got his life together, and a decade later, Mr. Reyes was a law-abiding and functioning member of society who wanted to become a roofer with his cousin. To help his cousin out, he cheated on a driver’s license test that his cousin was unable to pass. His third “strike” was a misdemeanor under California vehicular law. The fact that Santo Reyes is serving a life sentence should enrage Californians, as this is not only a huge miscarriage of justice, but also a completely irrational action for a state desperate for money.

One of the core tenets of Brandeis University is justice. The California “Three Strikes Law” is one of clearest cases of injustice anyone will ever find. Every Brandeis student should oppose this law, and the University itself has a responsibility to speak out against this unbelievable case of injustice, even though it is taking place on the West coast. Only a few things are worth marching in the streets for, “The Three Strikes Law” is one of them, and Californians should be ashamed of themselves for allowing such gross injustice to be carried regularly in their state.