Three Strikes and You’re ... Not Necessarily Out

Maybe life in jail’s a bit harsh for stealing purses?

On December 11, the Washington State Clemency and Pardons Board will hear a petition by serial purse-snatcher Stevan Dozier. In 1994, Dozier became the sixth person sentenced under the state's controversial "three strikes and you're out" law, designed to put offenders who repeatedly commit crimes, ranging from murder to robbery, in jail for good by mandating a sentence of life without possibility of parole. Among those scheduled to ask for Dozier's release: King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg.Earlier this year, Satterberg invited Dozier to submit a clemency petition, having selected his plight as worthy of reconsideration during a review of 20 early three-strikes cases prosecuted by his office (see "Prosecutor Admits Possible Injustice in the Three Strikes Law,'" SW, Jan. 23, 2008). He's also asked defense attorneys for more information about two others he's chosen as possible clemency candidates: Paul Rivers, whose third strike consisted of stealing $340 from a University District espresso stand, and David Conyers, who at 21 became one of the youngest individuals sentenced under the three-strikes law after his conviction for sticking up a series of convenience stores while pretending to have a gun in his pocket."It's still uncharted waters," Satterberg says of his effort, which is unprecedented in prosecutors' offices around the state. In fact, no other county has revisited a case they've handled during the 15 years the three-strikes law has been in effect. (Satterberg says he's only reconsidering cases in which all three strikes were for the lowest-level crime to be counted as such—second-degree robbery—and in which the individual in question has a good prison record.)Now 46 and afflicted by multiple sclerosis, Dozier was a crack addict who stole purses to buy drugs, according to legal documents. In his last crime, he followed a 69-year-old woman to her North Seattle apartment and asked her for the time before knocking her to the ground and grabbing her wallet."I believe in three strikes, and if anyone deserves it, Mr. Dozier does," Joe Solseng, the prosecutor in the case, was quoted in The Seattle Times as saying at the time. Now in private practice, Solseng says he has not "second-guessed" any of the three-strikes cases he handled, including that of Dozier, who Solseng says "repeatedly attacked vulnerable women."Satterberg, however, points out that if Dozier were convicted today, he probably would get about 10 years instead of life. That's because the prosecutor's office now allows many three-strikes candidates to accept a plea for a charge that does not constitute a strike in return for a harsher-than-usual sentence for that charge.Yet even with Satterberg's support, clemency is by no means guaranteed for Dozier. The Clemency and Pardons Board will make a recommendation to the governor, who alone has the power to act—and Gov. Christine Gregoire has been far from forgiving in the past (see "Gov. Gregoire: One Tough Clemency Judge," SW, July 4, 2007).

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