Gregory Taylor has been in prison since 1997 for trying to get some food. He was homeless at the time and had a criminal record. Today Taylor is free—thanks largely in part to two Stanford students who worked to have him released.
Just last week a judge ruled that Taylor’s sentence, a “third strike” under the infamous California law, was excessive and sentenced him to 8 years, which had already been served. Taylor’s case was well known, reported to have been the topic of a book according to the Los Angeles Times.
The Three Strikes Law was intended to keep the worst of the worse off the streets. It allowed judges to impose a 25 to life sentence on third felonies. In Taylor’s case the third offense was trying to break into a church for food. The church, incidentally, was one in which he was a regular feature and where he volunteered from time to time.
Although judges now are able to use their own discretion when sentencing people to the Three Strikes law, the law was irrationally applied in its early years. While breaking into a church may have definitely deserved a criminal punishment, a 25 to life sentence seems to have been completely out of line.
Taylor’s first and second felony convictions included an unsuccessful attempt at robbing a man and grabbing a purse with only $10 and a bus pass inside. His history of drug and alcohol abuse paired with mental illness no doubt played a role in his criminal behavior, though the attorney at his initial trial didn’t reveal any mental health issues and didn’t bring up Taylor’s troubled childhood either—two factors that may have influenced the judge’s sentence or the jury’s findings.
Judges should have a certain amount of discretion. While the same crime can be perpetrated by two people, the specific circumstances of the case and the individual can make the offense very different. Along that same line, not everyone deserves the same exact sentence.
In California, judges take into consideration both “mitigating” and “aggravating” factors. These are details about your case that may send the sentence either way—up or down from the norm. Mental health and drug addictions could be considered mitigating circumstances, or things that may have played a role in the commission of the act.
One of the many jobs of a defense attorney is to ensure the court is given a complete picture of who you are. It wouldn’t be right to have some representing you that didn’t want you to get the best results possible. An attorney who is willing to work tirelessly on your case is needed.
If you are facing criminal charges and not sure of what to do next or how to handle things—contact our attorneys today. You may be eligible for alternative dispositions or even to have your case heard in a specialty court.