11/11/2012 08:00 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Three Strikes Law Cases Need Review After Prop 36 Passes

Ventura County prosecutors and defense lawyers will start identifying prison inmates affected by the three-strikes proposition approved by voters Tuesday.

Some defendants who were sentenced to 25 years to life in prison for nonviolent crimes under the three-strikes law can start petitioning the courts for new and reduced sentences under Proposition 36, which reforms the nation's harshest three-strikes law to allow for shorter sentences for some offenders.

Under the proposition, the third felony must be a serious or violent crime to mandate an automatic sentence of 25 years to life in prison.

Proposition 36 passed by a 69 percent vote, according to the California secretary of state's office.

District Attorney Greg Totten said his office is reviewing criminal cases to determine whether his office will oppose any reduction of an inmate's sentence under the new law.

"Ultimately, the judge is going to be making the decision," Totten said. "It will require us to review older files and analyze what the just and right thing to do is."

Under Proposition 36, inmates who qualify for reduced sentences must not present threats to public safety, Totten said.

"There will be formal hearings, and it will require additional work on our part," he said. "We are hopeful and we are optimistic that we will be able to do it within existing resources."

Totten said prison inmates who have been violent while incarcerated or involved in prison gang activity will be "strongly opposed" by his office for release.

Ventura County public defender Steve Lipson said his office will go through its caseload to determine whether it has represented three-strike prison inmates.

"It means we will have to go back and figure out all the people we represented in Ventura County that are serving a life sentence based on a third strike that was nonviolent, nonserious, bring them back and bring them before the court again," Lipson said.

Totten said about 90 prison inmates prosecuted in Ventura County have been sentenced to 25 years to life under the three-strikes law, including more than 20 where the third strike was a nonserious, nonviolent felony.

The three-strikes law was approved by voters in 1994 to reduce crime, Totten said.

Lipson said the new law will have a positive impact on the justice system.

"It will make sure that we don't have people serving 25 years to life for possessing a gram of methamphetamine," Lipson said.

Defense attorney Victor Salas agreed. "I think you are going to see a better selection on who gets 'struck out' and that is going to save the taxpayers some money," he said.

Totten said he opposed Proposition 36 because it weakens the law that has enabled prosecutors to better protect the community.

This report contains material from The Associated Press.


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