Court Finds ‘Three-Strikes’ Laws Constitutional

March 5, 2003


Filed at 11:07 a.m. ET

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld long sentences meted out under the nation’s toughest three-time offender law, ruling that a prison term of 25 years to life is not too harsh for a small-time thief who shoplifted golf clubs.

California’s three-strikes-and-you’re-out law does not lead to unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment, the court said, even though a relatively minor crime can yield a life term if the criminal has a felony record.

The court divided, 5-4, though, in two cases testing the limits of California’s Proposition 184, intended to close the revolving prison door for criminals with lengthy, violent records.

Twenty-six states and the federal government have some version of a three-strikes law, which typically allow a life prison term or something close to it for a person convicted of a third felony.