Appeals Court Gives New Hope to California’s “Three Strikers” Denied Relief under Prop. 36

On June 24th, in an UnCommon Law case, California’s Sixth District Court of Appeal held that the new definition of “dangerousness” established by Proposition 47 must also apply to people seeking to modify their Three Strikes life sentences under Proposition 36 (the Three Strikes Reform Act of 2012).  This is a huge victory: previously, without a definition of “dangerousness” to constrain them, trial courts could keep Three Strikes life sentences in place based solely on factors showing no risk whatsoever of future violence, such as a person’s drug addiction.

Under Prop. 36, known as the Three Strikes Reform Act (2012), all individuals given life sentences as “Three-Strikers” for nonviolent and non-serious crimes were entitled to have sentences reduced  — unless the trial court found that such a reduction would pose an “unreasonable risk of danger to public safety.” However, Prop. 36 did not define the phrase “unreasonable risk of danger to public safety.” 

Prop. 47, known as the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act (2014), reclassified certain drug and theft-related felonies as misdemeanors and, like Prop. 36, allowed those already serving felony sentences to have their sentences reduced unless the court found that such a reduction would pose an “unreasonable risk of danger to public safety.” But unlike Prop. 36, Prop. 47 defined this form of risk to mean an unreasonable risk of committing one of the violent felonies known as “super strikes.” These “super strikes,” listed in the Penal Code, include murder, rape, and possession of a weapon of mass destruction. 

In the case of People v. Cordova (Jun. 24, 2016 H041050), the trial court had denied Mr. Cordova’s petition for re-sentencing under Prop. 36, but the Court of Appeal reversed, directing the trial court to reconsider the petition in light of Prop. 47’s definition of dangerousness. If this decision stands, it could mean that Prop. 36 petitions denied in other cases should be reconsidered under the new legal standard. Since very few people would be found likely to commit a “super strike” in the future, most of these re-sentencing petitions should now be granted. 

To access the Court’s full opinion, click here.