Supreme Court Justice Kennedy on CA's Three Strikes Law

By Kamika Dunlap on February 17, 2010 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

California's excessive prison sentences, along with the state's three strikes law, have caught the attention of Justice Anthony Kennedy.

The Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court addressed Pepperdine University School of Law and discussed his view of California's over-incareration problems, criticizing the state's three strikes law.

According to the New York Times, Justice Kennedy not only disapproved of how the three strikes law puts people behind bars for 25 years to life if they commit a third felony, even a nonviolent one, but of the fact that the law's sponsor was the correctional officers' union -- saying, "... that is sick."

Currently, there are 14,000 felons who, under California's three-strikes law, face a possible life sentence if they commit another felony.

As previously discussed, California was ordered by a panel of federal judges to cut its prison population by over 40,000 in the next two years. The badly overcrowded system is unable to provide inmates with adequate medical care. 

Recently, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger offered up a controversial proposal of shipping some inmates to Mexico as a cost-cutting measure.

Justice Kennedy urged the courts to do their part by enforcing constitutional prohibitions on excessive punishment in cases involving people, as well as corporations.

For example, in 2003, the year the court rejected a challenge by Gary Ewing who was sentenced to 25 years to life for shoplifting three golf clubs from a golf pro shop, it overturned a $145 million punitive damage award against the State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company.

California's battle to get tough on crime also is illustrated by Jerry Dewayne Williams' a.k.a. the "pizza thief" case.

Williams was convicted of snatching a slice of pizza from a group of children near the Redondo Beach Pier and was sentenced to 25-years to life under the three-strikes law. Williams, 43, along with the state's other felons convicted under the three-strikes law, must now walk the line or face a possible life sentence should they commit another felony.

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