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Senate Committee OKs Bill to Ease Three-Strikes Law

Legislature: For maximum sentence, third conviction would have to be violent offense. Measure's prospects are uncertain.

April 15, 1998|MAX VANZI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — Urged on by Southland supporters who took an all-night bus ride to get here, a state Senate committee approved a measure Tuesday to ease California's tough three-strikes sentencing law.

Prospects for enactment of the bill, which would require that the third-strike conviction be a violent offense before the maximum sentence could be imposed, appear dubious.

The legislation would remove what is widely viewed as the law's harshest component: a 25-year-to-life sentence upon conviction of a third felony, even if the third conviction is for a nonviolent, low-impact crime.

In an emotion-charged atmosphere in the hearing room, created by relatives and supporters of inmates from Los Angeles, Orange County and other areas, senators on the Senate Public Safety Committee heard from witnesses who said the three-strikes law often sends felons to prison for seemingly minor offenses.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday April 17, 1998 Home Edition Part A Page 3 Metro Desk 1 inches; 29 words Type of Material: Correction
Three-strikes law--An article in Wednesday's Times on the state's three-strikes sentencing law misstated the name of Roberta Robles' organization. The correct name is Californians 2 Amend Three Strikes.

Roberta Robles of Santa Ana, co-founder of Californians Against Three Strikes, said her husband received a 25-years-to-life prison term for "attempting to possess" imitation rock cocaine--which turned out to be a macadamia nut--offered to him by undercover police.

Sen. John Vasconcellos (D-Santa Clara), chairman of the committee and author of the bill (SB2048), said the Robles incident "makes the law incredible and stupid."

Other witnesses related statistics, supported by the Department of Corrections, showing that most California inmates are serving time for nonviolent offenses.

About 45 supporters from two organizations with chapters throughout the state attended the hearing, then moved outside for a peaceful demonstration on the Capitol steps. On Monday night, about half of the activists had set out by bus for the Capitol from Southern California.

The Vasconcellos bill would require amending a statute that was enacted at the polls as well as by the Legislature in 1994.

Backers' most likely course to change the law would be to secure two-thirds majority passage in both houses and the signature of Gov. Pete Wilson--who vigorously supported the three-strikes law as it stands today.

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