Proposition 36: Three Strikes Law. Repeat Felony Offenders. Penalties

- Pros & Cons -

Proposition 36

Three Strikes Law. Repeat Felony Offenders. Penalties

Initiative Statute

Regional impact:

The Question: 

Should California law be amended to provide that a life sentence should not be imposed for a third felony conviction unless the third conviction is for a serious or violent felony? 

The Situation: 

There are three types of crimes: felonies, misdemeanors, and infractions. Felonies are the category with the greatest potential penalties, and further may be classified as “violent” or “serious,” or both. Examples of violent felonies include murder, robbery and rape. Other felonies, such as assault with intent to commit robbery, are defined as serious, but not violent, while some felonies, such as grand theft (without use of a firearm or possession of a controlled substance), are not classified as either violent or serious.

California's three strikes law was passed as an initiative measure (Prop 184) in 1994. It imposes a life sentence for certain repeat offenders. If a person has two or more serious or violent felony convictions, the sentence imposed for any third felony conviction (not just serious or violent felonies) is life imprisonment with a minimum of 25 years before the possibility of parole. 

The Proposal: 

Prop 36 would provide that if a person with two previous serious or violent felony convictions is convicted of a third felony classified as non-serious and non-violent, the penalty for the third felony would be reduced to twice the usual term for that offense, instead of a minimum sentence of 25 years to life. A life sentence would still be imposed if either of the two previous felonies were for the most serious crimes (such as murder, attempted murder, rape, child molestation, and felonies involving use of a firearm) even if the third conviction is for a non-serious, non-violent offense.

Prop 36 would also allow previously sentenced third strikers to apply to be resentenced under the terms of Prop 36. Qualification for resentencing would largely depend on their prior history of convictions. 

Fiscal Effect: 

Savings: Estimated $70 to $90 million annually over the next two decades
because fewer people would be incarcerated for life, and some current inmates previously convicted of a non-violent, non-serious third strike offences would qualify for sentence review and possible reduction. A significant savings would result from a reduced need for costly medical care for elderly inmates.

Costs: One-time costs of a few million dollars relating to resentencing hearings for courts, district attorneys, public defenders, and county sheriffs statewide over the first couple of years. 

A YES Vote Means: 

Some criminal offenders with two prior serious or violent felony convictions who commit certain nonserious, non-violent felonies would be sentenced to shorter terms in state prison. In addition, some offenders with two prior serious or violent felony convictions who are currently serving life sentences for many nonserious, non-violent felony convictions could be resentenced to shorter prison terms.



A NO Vote Means: 

Offenders with two prior serious or violent felony convictions who commit any new felony could continue to receive life sentences. In addition, offenders with two prior serious or violent felony convictions who are currently serving life sentences for nonserious, nonviolent felonies would continue to serve the remainder of their life sentences.

Supporters Say: 


  • Prop 36 would make the punishment fit the crime and avoid the diversion of financial and law-enforcement resources in imposing life sentences on non-violent offenders.
  • There would be savings of potentially over $100 million annually in the costs of housing and paying the health-care expenses of non-violent third-strike offenders. 


Opponents Say: 


  • Prop 36 would allow the release from prison of dangerous repeat criminals sentenced to life terms, without parole or any supervision.
  • The three strikes law has reduced the state’s crime rate and prevented criminals from being recycled through our courts over and over again. 


LWVC Education Fund