The arrest in Seattle of robbery suspect David Conyers could prove to be a pivotal event in criminal justice for more than 20 states where “Three Strikes” laws are now on the books and it might also signal that history has returned to haunt opponents of the law that incarcerates recidivist felons.
Conyers was the youngest three-striker in the Evergreen State when he was sent to prison for life after a string of felony convictions. His final foul-up was a robbery spree in which he held up several convenience stores, claiming he had a gun.
After Washington voters passed Three Strikes by a 3-to-1 margin in 1993, similar laws were adopted in 22 other states and even the federal government – under then-President Bill Clinton – passed a version. It was an idea that swept the country, in a rather high-profile manner. It is not as though people, including criminals, didn’t know about it. Some people evidently cannot resist tempting fate or the law of averages.
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In September 2015, the Seattle Times editorialized for reform of the Three Strikes law, using Conyers as an example of what it felt was wrong with the law. Gov. Jay Inslee showed clemency for Conyers and gave him a “second chance.”
Actually, according to critics of the governor’s misplaced gesture, Conyers had already enjoyed a second and third “chance” before he was confined for his recidivism. This time around, Conyers – if convicted – will have used up all of his chances and be back behind bars for keeps.
Back in November 1997, the Kitsap Sun ran a story about the law, then just four years old. Conyers’ name came up in that story, too.
Quoted from an interview with the Seattle Times, Conyers tried to excuse his criminal behavior.
“Most people in society have lived a good life,” he said at the time. “They have nice houses, boats and cars. The whole family is together. Everybody has insurance. They go hiking and bowling. They don’t want for nothing. They look at other people .. like me … and it’s just ‘Lock ’em up.’ They’ve never experienced my life, the drugs, the wild life and prison.”
Especially the part about drugs and “the wild life” so they don’t wind up in prison.
The Conyers saga provides some perhaps unwelcome perspective to newspapers that used him as an example of what was, and remains, wrong with the Three Strikes law. Buried deep in that story were remarks from Dave LaCourse, a former employee of a Bellevue-based gun rights organization and one of the principal authors of the Three Strikes initiative. He had been the victim of a violent mugging in Seattle several years before.
His response at the time to critics of the law was classic: “Anyone can avoid it. Just stop committing crimes.”