- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 6, 2003

Yesterday, the Supreme Court set an important precedent by upholding California's three-strikes-you're-out law. In two separate cases, Lockyer vs. Andrade and Ewing vs. California, the court decided that the law that sends triple felons to prison for 25 years to life is neither cruel nor unusual, even in cases in which the 'third strike' is a crime of lesser consequence than the first two.

There's no doubt that three-strikes made California safer. After the law was passed, the state's crime rate dropped by 41 percent, almost twice the national average. Six percent of criminals commit about 60 percent of the crimes, according to former California Secretary of State Bill Jones, who helped write the law.

The ruling is likely to limit constitutional challenges to the law, which critics had charged was too capricious and strict to be constitutional. For instance, Ewing received his third strike while attempting to steal about $400 worth of golf clubs, while Andrade received his for trying swipe two videos worth about $153. However, both were also hardened criminals. Ewing had four previous convictions for robbery and burglary, and Andrade had been bouncing in and out of prisons since 1982.

Sadly for society, there exists a class of career criminals individuals who, from whatever motivation, remain a constant menace. Communities have a right to protect themselves against such incorrigibles by locking them up for as long as necessary. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor recognized as much when she wrote for the majority, "When California's legislature enacted the three-strikes law, it made a judgment that protecting the public safety requires incapacitating criminals who have already been convicted of at least one serious or violent crime."

Other critics of three-strikes laws claim that they reduce, if not wholly eliminate, the possibility of redemption. Most of us believe, or at least hope, that convicted felons will repent and reform. However, that's not always the case, and it's naive to think otherwise. Some felons go and sin no more. Others commit even worse crimes. To the traumatized victims and their families, it matters little if the felon was on his first strike or his third the shock is just as stark, the wounds are just as deep.

In addition to allowing the continued existence of an important social shield, the Supreme Court's decision also had an important federalist component. It's worth noting that the Supreme Court merely upheld the right of states to enact such laws it did not prescribe forms or definitions, much less dictate that all states adopt such strictures. Twenty-six states have done so, with varying definitions of what constitutes a "strike" and the length of the sentence for the third strike.

Those who dislike the three-strikes laws under which they are living can campaign for changes in the legislature. That was the genesis for California's law. It was established in 1994 after 12-year-old Polly Klass was kidnapped at knife-point from a slumber party and then strangled to death by paroled kidnapper Richard Allen Davis. Davis was sent to death row, but he shouldn't have been on the streets in the first place.

While discussions about the specifics of various three-strikes laws should continue, they are too important a social shield to have been thrown out by the Supreme Court. The justices should be commended for upholding the constitutionality of three-strikes-and-you're out laws.

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