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.

We are elated that our client John Bergeron walked out of the gates of San Quentin, a free man after an Orange County Superior Court vacated his 135-year-to-life sentence and ordered his immediate release!

In 2005, John was sentenced under the Three Strikes law for a series of robberies. He had a traumatic childhood marked by abuse, neglect, homelessness, and drug use. He was introduced to heroin at the age of six and much of his life doing anything he could to support his drug addiction. His extreme sentence, which effectively ensured he would die in prison, served as a wake-up call, and John spent the next 17 years trying to redeem himself and make amends for the harm he caused. 

While incarcerated, John became a certified drug and alcohol counselor and a “Gold Coat” prisoner, trained by prison officials to provide support services to especially vulnerable inmates, often those with dementia or disabilities. His hard work earned the respect of other inmates, prison officials and correctional officers, one of whom wrote in support of his release: “After a diligent and exhaustive review of his accomplishments you are left with the question, if not him, then who?” 

Department of Corrections Secretary Kathleen Allison ultimately agreed, and recommended John’s sentence be recalled based on his exceptional conduct. After hearing all the evidence, the Orange County Superior Court vacated John’s Three Strikes sentence and resentenced him to time-served. John was met at the prison gates by Gary Burt of the Ride Home Program who took him for his first meal as a free man and a quick stop to see the San Francisco Bay from the other side of San Quentin. After picking up a few sundries to help start his new life, John was dropped off at Options Recovery, a full-service residential reentry program in Berkeley.

We’re thrilled for John and his new opportunity for life outside of prison! 

For those keeping an eye on California’s “second look” law:

The Three Strikes Project pursues many avenues for relief for our clients, but we’ve had particular success under a “second look” provision in California law that lets the Secretary of the Department of Corrections (or other law enforcement agencies) prisoners for sentence reconsideration based on exceptional rehabilitation and in-prison conduct. A judge is ultimately responsible for accepting or rejecting a resentencing recommendation after hearing evidence and argument from local prosecutors and defense counsel.

John is the 63rd client of ours freed from a life sentence imposed under the Three Strikes law thanks to this process.

Since 2018, the Secretary of California’s prison system has recommended just over 200 people for reduced sentences based on exceptional conduct. In total, courts have granted reduced sentences in 72 of these cases (over 85% of whom have been Three Strikes Project clients). The remaining cases have been denied or are still pending in the courts.

Last year, we worked with our partners at the Committee on the Revision of the Penal Code to enact legislation to help give courts more guidance in these cases and hopefully improve the grant rates. We are also working with prison officials, public defenders, judges, prosecutors around the state, and a group of pro bono attorneys in our “pop up” program, to help with the administration of this “second look” provision, which incentivizes rehabilitation and offers some hope to people who have put in the work and demonstrated that their continued incarceration is no longer in the interests of justice. 

Thank you all for your continued support!

– Mike
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