CRIME STORY has received permission to re-print Michael Romano‘s newsletters from Stanford Law School’s Three Strikes Project whose mission is to reverse the most unjust criminal sentences. Romano and his colleague Susan Champion were interviewed by Amanda Knox for CRIME STORY and you can find the podcast and the transcript of that interview here. You can find a story about Romano’s participation in a U.S. Congressional field hearing on criminal justice reform here.

I’m very happy to announce a MAJOR long-fought victory in the Court of Appeal for people committed to state mental hospitals for life as a result of the Three Strikes law. It’s a five-year legal saga that may intrigue appellate lawyers, policy wonks, and some scholars—but I hope incenses the rest of you…

In 2000, our client Troy S. was suffering from severe mental illness and was arrested for a minor, non-serious, non-violent crime. He was later found not guilty by reason of insanity. But because it was his third “strike” offense, he was committed to the state mental hospital for the rest of his life. He’s been there for over 20 years.

Even though Troy should have qualified for relief under reforms to the Three Strikes law passed in 2012 as Proposition 36, a Court of Appeals ruled in 2016 that the reforms didn’t apply to people in state mental hospitals. The Court reasoned that people found not guilty by reason of insanity are not “prisoners”—they are “patients” subject to “civil commitment.” Therefore, the court concluded, they are generally excluded from reforms to state “criminal” laws.

We immediately petitioned to the Supreme Court, which in 2017 declined to review the case. We then went to the legislature, and in 2018, thanks largely to Senators Jim Beall and Nancy Skinner, we helped enact a new reform to extend the benefits of Proposition 36 people with mental illness who were found not guilty by reason of insanity. (While we were at it, we made sure that people with mental illness weren’t similarly excluded from Proposition 47.)

So Troy finally thought he had a chance to win his freedom, and in 2019 he filed a petition for release in Sacramento Superior Court. But then, to our great surprise, the Sacramento judge flatly. denied Troy’s petition. The court issued an 18-page decision ruling that the reform passed by the legislature in 2018 was invalid because it violated (wait for it) . . . Proposition 36.

This court reasoned that severely mentally ill people shouldn’t have a chance to win their freedom because the new statute enacted by the legislature in 2018 improperly amended Proposition 36 without a new vote at the ballot box.

So we appealed again.

This time—thankfully, finally—the Court of Appeal ended the madness and ruled late last week that the reforms enacted by Sen. Skinner and the legislature in 2018 were perfectly legal, and that Troy can now, once and for all, petition for his freedom.

This is a long-fought and well-earned legal victory, and we’re very proud of our team and Troy’s perseverance. 

But Troy’s fight is not over. He now has to go back to the same Superior Court judge in Sacramento who thought the law was invalid and petition for his freedom. But he won’t be there alone. We’ll be there with him every step of the way.

Thank you all for your support and encouragement!


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