Former Seattle Weekly writer Michael Romano, now an attorney in San Francisco, received some highly flattering coverage yesterday from the New York Times Magazine for his efforts to free prisoners convicted under California's three-strikes law.
Romano's Stanford clinic has had great success.
Romano, who showed an early interest in social justice issues with his infamous Weekly story, "Is Grunge Too White?," is head of a Stanford University clinic that has gotten the courts to reduce the sentences of 13 people who might otherwise have spent the rest of their life in jail for offenses as minor as stealing a jack from a tow truck. Eight have consequently been let out with time served, Romano says.
He's been working in concert with Los Angeles County's Republican prosecutor, Steve Cooley, who has shown himself to be open to revisiting these cases. King County's Republican Prosecutor Dan Satterberg has also initiated a review of three-strikes cases. But Washington has only freed one three-striker so far, a fraction of the number released by California. Why?
|Satterberg says clemency is the only route to freeing three-strikers here.|
But that option is not available in Washington's courts, according to Satterberg. He says clemency is therefore the only route, and it's a tough one. A prisoner must go before the state Clemency and Pardons Board, and if successful then seek approval from Governor Chris Gregoire, who has generally been loath to grant leniency. Aside from the one three-striker who has been freed, three others have been recommended for release by the clemency board and have been waiting for months for a decision from the governor.
In some ways, Washington's three-strikes law is even more severe than California's. A defendant who is rendered "out" after three strikes in California receives a sentence of 25 years to life. Here, if you're out, you're really out--with a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
California's law, however, is uniquely harsh by requiring only two of three "strikes" to be convictions for so-called "serious" offenses. As the New York Times story points out, "almost any infraction beyond jaywalking can trigger a third strike."
All three strikes in Washington are supposed to be for serious offenses. Still, 2nd degree robberies (potentially used when there's even a threat of force) count, and such a charge might apply to a mere purse snatching.
State Senator Adam Kline (D-Seattle) has long introduced bills to take robbery 2 off the list of strikes. He's never been successful. This year, he wrote in a recent newsletter (see pdf), he didn't even try given the anti-crime fury that followed the recent spate of police officer killings.