Helen Ante says her brother Pete Marin, is serving a 25 years to life sentence for stealing a tool kit from WalMart.
"They had to go back seven years just to make a third strike his last offense, which was petty theft," Ante said. “That was really hard for us to accept. He served time for whatever past wrongs he's done.”
Marin has been at Soledad State Prison for 17 years for a crime, Ante believes, was not worth a third strike. She says her brother is the only boy of six children in their family. He was an East High School football player when their father died his freshman year, and he started doing drugs.
“The responsibility took a toll, where drugs is where he turned,” Ante said. “He was balancing work and school, trying to be the man of the house. So, he developed a drug habit, and we all tried to support him and keep him strong, but when it gets a hold of you, it gets a hold of you.”
Assistant District Attorney Scott Spielman says the Three Strikes law works and keeps crime down.
"I'm sorry that their family members may be in that position, that their loved one is incarcerated and they feel they're being unfairly treated. But, when you look at the criminal history of the three strikers and the offenses they commit, an objective person who's not related to them, will say that person had a lot of chances, and they continued to do their criminal behavior,” said Spielman.
Ante says her brother is no longer dependent on drugs and has turned his life around.
“Certificates have shown, school has shown, visits have shown, letters have shown, calls have shown, he has changed,” she said.
Spielman says Ante's brother should be eligible for parole in two years. Ante feels the Three Strikes law should be revised to give life sentences to serious and violent offenders, not petty thieves.
"We're only wanting this Three Strike law to stay in effect for those who have violent crimes such as child molestation, rape, murder,” she said. “There are those serving time for whatever minor felony, minor crime, yet we have those who are rapists, child molesters, murderers being let go because there’s no room in jail.”
Mary Shadden agrees. Her 34-year-old son Thomas Shadden, has served eight years of a 35-to-life sentence at Pelican Bay State Prison for his third strike of making a phone call home while in prison.
"It's not a violent crime,” Shadden said. “It's a phone call made from a facility here in Kern County to his girlfriend at the time.”
Shadden is part of the Bakersfield Families to Amend California’s Three Strikes Law (FACTS). The group rallied in downtown Bakersfield on Wednesday at the Liberty Bell to gain support for Proposition 36 on the November ballot. Prop. 36 would reduce sentences for third strike offenders if that third strike crime is not serious or violent.
Under current law, if a person has two or more serious or violent felonies on record, then a third felony conviction automatically leads to a life sentence in prison.
Shadden says more than 6,000 Californians are serving sentences for non-violent crimes.
"We need people to get out and vote,” she said. “Vote it for what the law was intended for, the violent third striker, not the non-violent third striker."
Spielman says judges have an authority, called Romero Motion, which would look at the criminal’s history and decide whether to drop a strike.
“They can make the determination of what the appropriate sentence is, and if it’s not deserving of 25-to-life, then the judge can strike one strike, or strike two strikes and strike them all.”
Ante says the current law has kept her away from her brother for nearly two decades, and she hopes people will support Prop 36.
“We don’t want to eradicate this Three Strikes law,” she said. “We just want the crime to fit the time.”