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One and Two Strike Laws Passed

By Paul Wright

In the June, 1994, issue of PLN, my article "Three Strikes Racks 'em Up" made reference to then pending proposals to pass a "Two Strikes" law in Georgia and a "One Strike" law in California for sex offenders. I am sad to say that both laws passed. (The federal government recently passed a "three strikes" law of its own in Clinton's vaunted "crime bill" but that piece of legislation is the subject of the cover article of this issue.)

On September 1, 1994, the Califomia legislature passed its "One Strike Rape Bill." As originally drafted by Republican state senator Marian Bergeson the law required that nearly all sex offenders be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Critics immediately attacked the law as so harsh that it might prompt rapists to kill their victims. The version finally approved, which was signed into law by Republican Governor Pete Wilson who made this law a major part of his re-election campaign, calls for a penalty of 25 years to life for sexual assaults involving torture, kidnapping or burglary with intent to commit rape. Lesser sex offenses would have sentences of fifteen years to life.

Under California's current sentencing laws a single rape conviction involving a weapon nets an eight year sentence with the prisoner usually released after five years or less. The same offender sentenced under the one strike bill will spend nearly 13 years in prison and then be freed only by the decision of a parole board. Those sentenced to the maximum term of 25 years to life will not be eligible for parole for more than 21 years.

The California DOC has not yet determined what impact this new law will have on prison capacity. According to the Corrections Yearbook, as of August 1, 1994, the CDC was the most overcrowded prison system in the country, operating at 185.8% of its rated capacity. (Ohio, which in 1993 had the dubious distinction of "most overcrowded" was pushed into second place, operating at 179.6% of its rated capacity.) The "one strike" bill is touted as being the harshest in the country. One prosecutor was quoted as saying its purpose was to make sex offenders "stop, leave the state or be locked up." What effect this will actually have on crime rates remains to be seen. Likely, it will be little or none.

Georgia's Democratic Governor Zell "Zig-Zag" Miller, also up for reelection, signed that state's "two strikes" law into effect in April, 1994. Actually, according to the Atlanta Constitution, he signed the law into effect no less than seven different times at different sites around the state while campaigning. Among the law's provisions are sentences of life without parole for any person found guilty of specific crimes who already has one prior offense. The law also gives mandatory minimum sentences of ten years to first time offenders and treats juveniles offenders as adults. The Georgia legislature voted 166-7 in favor of the law. For the moment Georgia can lay claim to having the most punitive prior offender law on the books. Given the national stampede towards draconian punishment it may not hold this distinction for long.

Editor's Note: Georgia's two strikes law was also approved by voters on Nov. 8, 1994.

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