LAKE ELSINORE: Alleged thief faces possible life sentence

A Lake Elsinore man whose prior criminal convictions sent him to prison seven times now faces a possible life sentence if convicted of stealing gloves and wire worth $29 from a local Home Depot.

Scott Andrew Hove Sr., 44, is charged with petty theft, which is a felony, in connection with the 2009 incident at Home Depot in Lake Elsinore. He also is alleged to have prior convictions, a trio of 1991 first-degree burglary convictions from Orange County, making him eligible for a prison term of 25 years to life under California’s three-strikes law.

The three-strikes law increases penalties for offenders with a third felony conviction to 25 years to life if a defendant has two or more previous serious or violent felony convictions. The third strike can be a conviction on any felony charge, said Deputy District Attorney Torey Nasif, the prosecutor handling the Hove case.

Opening statements in Hove’s trial are scheduled to be presented to jurors Monday in Judge Albert J. Wojcik’s Southwest Justice Center courtroom.

Supervising Deputy District Attorney Arthur Chang described Hove as a career criminal who has served seven prison terms and who shows no signs of changing his ways.

“This case is not about the theft from Home Depot —- it’s about his criminal history,” Chang said. “He cannot stop. He has this constant history of reoffending.”

Defense attorney Dario Bejarano Jr. points out that although Hove has numerous convictions, none are for violent crimes.

“The question in my mind is: Do we want to incarcerate someone like this for the rest of his life for this kind of crime?” he said.

Between 1988 and 2008, Hove was convicted of drunken driving causing injury, drug possession, burglary and receiving stolen property, according to Riverside Superior Court records.

Chang said the decision to prosecute Hove under the three-strikes law was made after the case was reviewed and discussed by managers within the district attorney’s office.

California prosecutors can use their own discretion in deciding whether to pursue a three-strikes case, and not all offices have the same standards.

One legal expert said opinions vary within the legal community and some prosecutors would not pursue a nonviolent offender under the three-strikes law.

“Some people really feel this is an inappropriate use of three-strikes,” said Laurie Levenson, a professor of law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. “They think three-strikes is for the violent criminals, especially in a time when prisons are overflowing.”

Levenson noted that some prosecutors take a much tougher stance and pursue three-strikes cases when the offenders are not violent, which the law allows.

Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley, considered by many to be a tough-on-crime prosecutor, joined a movement about three years ago to amend the three-strikes law to focus on violentcriminals, she said.

Opponents said the law is unjustly harsh on nonviolent offenders, who receive the same prison term as convicted murderers.

“We want to amend the law so it does not apply to petty offenses,” said Bonnie Gordon, 56, of Ontario, the Inland Empire chairwoman of Families to Amend California’s Three Strikes Law.

She said the Hove case is one of many that demonstrate the law’s unfairness.

“It’s ridiculous,” Gordon said. “A lot of people are locked up for these offenses.”

Of the inmates in state prisons serving a life sentence because of the three-strikes law, more than 2,000 of the offenses were property crimes, while almost 4,000 were for crimes against people, according to a 2010 report by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Gordon said she voted for the law in 1994 because she believed it would keep murderers and rapists in prison, but did not understand its reach until a few years later, when a loved one was facing charges.

Oceanside resident Lyndon Jackson had two prior strikes for burglarizing an unoccupied dwelling when he was charged under the law, she said. Jackson was paid for fixing an air conditioning unit with a $250 check that turned out to be stolen and forged, Gordon said. He was subsequently convicted of burglary of a commercial establishment and honoring a forged check, then sentenced to 25 years to life in prison, she said.

Nondus Andrea Hove, 70, fears her son will face the same fate in Riverside County.

She and defense attorney Bejarano both say Hove would benefit from a drug treatment program.

“There are alternatives to locking him up,” Bejarano said. “He’s been stealing to maintain his drug habit. There is no violence in his background.”

Hove’s mother, a Long Beach resident, said her son should be punished.

“He’s stupid,” she said of her son’s actions. “But for him to spend the rest of his life in prison for stealing a $20 pair of gloves is crazy.”

Call staff writer Tammy J. McCoy at 951-676-4315, ext. 2628.

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