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Critics say reform to the California three strikes law is necessary as life sentences have been imposed for minor crimes, including theft crimes alleging such minor offenses as stealing a pair of socks. In February, this blog reported the story of a man facing a three strikes sentence for allegedly attempting to take a pair of gloves and some wire from a "big-box" home improvement store. That man was sentenced to a 29-years-to-life prison term for the alleged roughly $21 theft crime.

Now a group of Stanford University law professors have drafted a new proposed ballot initiative seeking to reform the harsh consequences of the sentencing law. The new proposal does not go as far as the 2004 measure that was defeated in the legislature. The new measure seeks to limit felonies triggering third strikes to serious or violent felonies for many convictions.

However, in contrast to the legislative measure narrowly defeated in 2004, the new proposal carves out an exception for so-called "hard-core" repeat offenders, that sources characterize as murderers, rapists and child molesters. In those cases the exception will allow any felony conviction, even a felony shoplifting conviction, to trigger a third strike.

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For the first six-months of 2012, Californians with old, unpaid traffic tickets will be able to clear up the delinquent tickets at a significant savings. The state is offering a sort-of amnesty-like program for people who have outstanding traffic tickets that are at least 3-years-old. The deal the state is offering during the six-month period is a half-price offer. Californians with old unpaid tickets can clear-up the delinquent fines for half price. The new law seeks to recover a portion of the roughly $900 million in overdue traffic ticket fines.

The Administrative Office of the Courts in California estimates the traffic ticket discount could generate as much as $46 million for the state. The traffic ticket discount offer applies to tickets that had an original due date before the start of 2009. A major caveat, however, the 50 percent traffic ticket discount program does not apply to drunk driving fines, reckless driving offenses nor parking tickets.

The law also allows individual counties to further limit the scope of the discount program. For instance, a manager with the Enhanced Collection's Unit with the state courts says a county can limit the discount to such infractions as speeding tickets and running a red light, while excluding misdemeanor violations, like driving with a suspended license.

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Allegations of gang crimes can bring serious consequences under state law. A recent case in Santa Cruz County highlights how thin the evidence of gang involvement can be to lead to a gang crimes charge. A Watsonville mother recently faced a charge of gang participation after a video was posted on YouTube. A schoolyard fight that reportedly occurred in September apparently was the focus of the video.

The fight reportedly involved the Watsonville Mother's child. The woman reportedly heard that her daughter was being jumped and she went to the Harkins Slough area to find her daughter. Apparently, she saw the fight and tried to scare off the girl who was fighting with her daughter. The mother shouted, and the shouts reportedly were captured on the YouTube video.

Law enforcement reportedly got wind that the video was posted on YouTube and after viewing it, the woman was charged with parental neglect and gang participation. The gang crime apparently was based upon the woman's language. Police claimed the language made references to an alleged Watsonville gang.

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The task force reportedly will focus on people law enforcement believes are gang members. A story in the Santa Cruz Sentinel does not explain how the task force arrives at the conclusion that a suspect is a gang member. Under California law, many offenses provide more severe sentences if prosecutors allege the offense was committed by an alleged gang member. Gang crimes in California can also lead to strikes under the California three strikes law.

The Santa Cruz task force reportedly plans initially to focus on alleged gang crimes in the South County. However, officials say the gang task force will also investigate alleged gang members in other areas of the county, including Santa Cruz, Live Oak and Soquel. Authorities claim they have identified as many as 19 gangs, each of which reportedly will receive task force scrutiny.

Officials have not disclosed the number of members will be included in the overall task force. Law enforcement says the gang task force reportedly will change in size, depending on the time of year and as the task force determines the need for additional officers.

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In January the California Supreme Court ruled that a police search of a cell phone after an arrest is constitutionally sound. This blog carried a story on the ruling on January 21. The January ruling involved an appeal of a case where Ventura County law enforcement searched a man's cell phone for text messages after the man was arrested on suspicion of committing a California drug crime.

The January ruling may not be the end of the story. Monday the California Assembly unanimously approved a measure aimed at requiring law enforcement to seek a valid warrant before they can lawfully search the contents of a cell phone. However, the Assembly measure differs from a bill that passed in the Senate last month. The Assembly measure waters down the warrant requirement by allowing law enforcement to conduct a warrantless search if they believe an exception applies.

The exceptions that would allow police to conduct a warrantless search under the Assembly bill would involve situations where police believe the search is necessary to prevent injuries, to stop the destruction of evidence or to prevent a crime from occurring.

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