California Businessman Fights Three Strikes Law

Jerry Keenan, an insurance broker in Sacramento, Calif., has spent $1.56 million to get an initiative on the November ballot that would ease California’s three-strikes law, the Associated Press reported May 31.

Keenan’s son, Richard, is serving an eight-year prison sentence under the three-strikes law. In 2000, Richard pleaded guilty to two felony counts of gross vehicular manslaughter for the deaths of two 19-year-olds who were riding in a car Keenan was driving at 95 mph.

The younger Keenan, who was drinking and smoking marijuana the night of the crash, was also charged with one count of causing great bodily injury to a third person in the car.

That was the third strike for Keenan, who was stopped earlier in the year for having marijuana in his car and was driving with a suspended license.

Currently, the law applies to anyone convicted of causing great bodily injury, whether intended or not. Keenan’s initiative would revise the definition and allow courts to reduce penalties retroactively for those currently in prison for such crimes.

Under the current law, anyone committing two serious crimes is sentenced to 25 years to life for the third crime, even if it’s a minor infraction like shoplifting. The proposed initiative would require the third felony to be a serious or violent crime.

Supporters of Keenan’s initiative said it would save millions of dollars by incarcerating only those who commit serious crimes, rather than minor offenses. “The idea of jailing someone in a maximum-security prison for the rest of their life because they stole a loaf of bread or a few videotapes is mindless vengeance,” said Citizens Against Violent Crime, an Orange County group promoting the initiative.

Opponents of the initiative, including Sacramento County District Attorney Jan Scully, said it could lead to the release of violent offenders.

Keenan spent the money gathering signatures for the petition. The initiative is expected to qualify for the ballot.