Monday, February 7, 2022







     At the very moment when Gov. Gavin Newsom and his appointed attorney general, Rob Bonta, were talking tough on crime just after last fall’s wave of smash-and-grab burglaries, an influential new state panel was plumping hard to soften California’s signature law for getting tough on career criminals.


        The first-in-the-nation “three strikes and you’re out” law – passed with 72 percent approval as a ballot initiative in 1994 – demands life in prison without possibility of parole for convicted murderers. This does little to improve public safety, said the new Committee on Revision of the Penal Code. It also drives up the prison population and taxpayer costs, but has not quelled crime, the group contended.


        The committee’s recommendations stand a decent chance of becoming law as part of the state’s decade-long effort to cut down the number of convicts it houses.


        The panel of five Newsom appointees and two legislators recommends repealing three-strikes, despite the huge public vote for it and the fact there is no evidence the sentiment behind that vote has ebbed.


        Recognizing the law itself cannot be repealed without another statewide vote, the group instead suggested several alterations possible without consulting voters.


        If that happens, it would be yet another example of the Legislature trying to circumvent the plainly expressed will of the voters. Other attempts in recent years have included efforts to get around public votes against statewide rent control and for retention of the cash bail system in state courts.


        This time, the panel suggests, legislators ought to rewrite three-strikes, which requires a sentence of 25 years to life imprisonment for anyone convicted of a third felony after two serious or violent crimes. The law now doubles terms for “two-strikers,” criminals with a past serious or violent felony conviction later found guilty of a second such offense.


        Crimes committed when those convicted were juveniles should no longer be counted as “strikes,” the panel recommends. The group also suggested counting as strikes only felonies committed in the past five years – even if the criminal spent that time in prison, where committing such an offense is almost impossible.


        “Many of these people didn’t have a violent crime – maybe forging a check or drug use years back,” said ultra-liberal Democratic state Sen. Nancy Skinner of Berkeley, a panel member. She suggested to a reporter that even if the public still supports severe penalties, “it’s important to have this conversation so we can see if our thinking has changed. If we can see this didn’t work as intended, we have the right to change it.”


        Supporters of three-strikes called the panel’s report “a complete farce.” Said Michele Hanisee, president of the Association of Deputy District Attorneys of Los Angeles County, “They’re trying … to make the worst killers eligible for parole.”


Paraphrasing former Gov. Jerry Brown, who repeatedly reversed proposed releases for members of the violently perverse and murderous Charles Manson “Family,” she said, “Aren’t there some crimes that are unforgivable?”


Still, the Newsom-dominated commission said California’s most punitive laws have not worked. Prisons remain overcrowded, the panel lamented, while severe sentencing has not greatly affected crime rates.


The group pointedly did not address the alleged effects of the 2014 Proposition 47, which removes any theft or burglary amounting to less than $950 from the felony realm. In fact, serious crime rates dropped for years after three-strikes became law, but began rising again after 2014.


Several sheriffs and police chiefs around the state blame Prop. 47’s limits for the rash of smash-and-grab crimes late last year. Others blast the book-and-release policies for misdemeanor suspects promoted by leftist district attorneys like Chesa Boudin of San Francisco and George Gascon of Los Angeles County.


The fact the new report comes from a panel composed of Newsom appointees and some of the Legislature’s most liberal members causes some to question the sincerity of anti-crime rhetoric delivered by Newsom and Bonta just after the spate of smash-and-grabs.


        That skepticism gets substance from the fact that most Newsom appointees – even to statutorily independent agencies like the Public Utilities Commission – consistently look to him and his leading aides for guidance on key decisions. There is no reason to believe this committee is different.



    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

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