Today, the California Second District Court of Appeal decided that California’s Three Strike Reform law was not unconstitutionally vague. In the People v. Flores (2014), the California Court of Appeal reviewed the language of Proposition 36 to ensure that the statute was not so vague that it would lead to improper results because people would interpret the language differently. Please call our toll-free number at (855) 977-1212 to see how one of our attorney members can provide you a FREE Lawyer CONSULTATION on your Criminal Law issue.
As many people know, the Three Strikes Reform initiative sought to reduce the number of people sentenced to 25 years to life for the conviction of a third crime. The initiative states that if a person’s third conviction is for a non-violent, non-serious crime, then that person will not receive a sentence of 25 years to life. The law also provides for prisoners convicted of a third strike to petition for a resentencing if the third conviction was for a non-violent and non-serious felony and if the person would not “pose an unreasonable risk of danger to public safety.”
Mark Anthony Flores petitioned the Superior Court for a resentencing but was denied. He therefore appealed the decision and challenged the law by stating that the word “unreasonable” makes the statement about posing a risk of danger to the public unconstitutionally vague. The Second District Court of Appeal reviewed the language and found that it was not impermissibly vague. Relying on a U.S. Supreme Court precedent in Cameron v. Johnson (1968), the Court of Appeal stated that “unreasonable” is not a vague term and does not render the law unconstituational. The Court goes on to state that a Superior Court judge has the requisite knowledge and expertise to determine if releasing a prisoner or granting a lesser sentence would lead to an unreasonable risk to public safety. To demonstrate this point, the Court refers to a case where earlier this year the Court of Appeal granted a lower sentence via the Three Strikes Reform initiative.
In addition, the Court reaffirmed that the appropriate standard of proof that the prosecution needs to make to demonstrate that the prisoner poses a danger to public safety is preponderance of the evidence. Mr. Flores argued that the standard should be beyond a reasonable doubt, but the Court of Appeal decided in People v. Superior Court (Kaulick) (2012) that the People do not need to use the beyond a reasonable doubt standard. In Kaulick, the Court applied another U.S. Supreme Court precedent that stated that a downward revision of a sentence does not require the use of the beyond a reasonable doubt standard. The Kaulick Court therefore held that the preponderance of the evidence standard is appropriate for Three Strikes Reform petitions. The Flores Court reaffirmed that opinion.
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