Green Party of California


Ruling says life for petty theft not "cruel and unusual punishment"

For immediate release: March 12, 2003

Beth Moore Haines, GPCA Spokesperson, 530-277-0610,
Ross Mirkarimi, GPCA Spokesperson, 415-412-7526,
John Strawn, GPCA Spokesperson, 805-689-2840,

SACRAMENTO - The Green Party of California (GPCA) expressed shock over this week's US Supreme Court ruling saying a sentence of 50 years to life for petty theft is not "cruel and unusual punishment" under the 8th amendment to the Constitution. The GPCA vows to work with legislators and Families to Amend California's Three Strikes (FACTS), to limit such sentences to violent felonies.

The decision follows California charging Leandro Andrade with two felony counts of petty theft with a prior conviction for stealing $150 in videotapes, and Gary Ewing with one felony count for attempting to take three golf clubs from a golf course. Under California's three strikes law, any felony can constitute the third strike, imposing a prison term of 25 years to life.

Early last year, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a double life sentence for Andrade amounted to "cruel and unusual punishment". California Attorney General Bill Lockyer (D) and Governor Gray Davis (D), a recipient of millions of dollars from the Correctional Officers of California, appealed the decision to the Supreme Court. Davis, a staunch supporter of the three-strikes law, has proposed cutting an average 9 percent from nearly every state department except for the prison system's $5.24 billion annual budget.

Davis, who vowed never to sign legislation to amend Three Strikes now has only a 27% approval rating in a recent Los Angeles Times poll.

Writing for the court minority, Justice David H. Souter said, "If Andrade's sentence is not grossly disproportionate, the principle (of cruel and unusual punishment) has no meaning." Outside California, a 25-year prison term is more the norm for someone convicted of first-degree murder, not shoplifting, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in his dissent.

The GPCA calls on all California legislators to act in non-partisan collaboration to submit legislation amending Three Strikes.

"I challenged Lt. Governor Cruz Bustamante and State Senator Bruce McPherson for the office lieutenant governor on the radio (in October 2002). They agreed that Three Strikes should be amended," said Donna J. Warren, former Green Party Candidate for lieutenant governor. "Bustamante said that drug use and a lack of education in our communities fuels Three Strikes. McPherson said that the third strike should be violent. If our lieutenant governor and a State Senator think an amendment is needed, when do they plan to present the legislation?" asks Warren.

With California's worst budget crisis ever, the Governor continues to choose a "Tough on Crime" platform, rather than address the systemic problems that send the poor and people of color to prison under the Three Strikes law.

The Governor's focus is a "Tough on Crime" platform, rather than addressing the systemic problems that the Three Strikes law has produced.

It costs California taxpayers an estimated $27,000 a year to house one inmate. The Department of Corrections says about 344 inmates are serving 25-to-life terms for petty crimes that, without the three-strikes law, would require sentences of one to three years. The money spent on those third-strike convictions -- over $9 million per year -- could be used for education and medical care for our children.

The Green Party of California is seeking needed reforms of the Three Strikes Law.

"We will work with legislators on a non-partisan basis, and join forces with Families to Amend California's Three Strikes (FACTS) and other grassroots organizations to amend this law," said Peter Camejo, former Green Party candidate for governor. "Three Strikes currently warehouses nonviolent, low-level drug offenders at a high cost to taxpayers. Amending Three Strikes to address violent felonies will restore confidence in the fairness of the criminal justice system," Camejo said.

Geri Silva, Executive Director of (FACTS), said, "It's clear today that the federal government will not come to our aid. We must take this fight into our own hands in California. Today's ruling reenergizes our campaign to bring Three Strikes reform to the ballot in 2004. A new ballot measure is our best hope for reform."

FACTS recently polled California voters on a proposal to reform three strikes, and found two-thirds support overhauling the law. The group is now fund-raising and planning to bring the measure to the ballot in November 2004. Silva continued, "We urge all Californians who are offended by today's decision to join this fight and help us put reform on the ballot next year."

The Green Party of California
P.O. Box 2828, Sacramento, CA 95812
Phone: (916) 448-3437