But once in office, Harris would revise, if not completely reverse, many of her previously stated principles.
In 1994, California had passed a three-strikes law, under which a second felony conviction automatically resulted in an enhanced sentence and a third felony conviction automatically resulted in 25 years to life. At her inauguration, Harris promised that she would “only use three strikes when the third strike is a serious or violent felony” and “never charge the death penalty.”
Barely a year after taking office, Harris encountered a defendant who had previously been charged with a serious crime and was then being charged with a nonviolent third offense: illegal possession of a handgun by a felon. She pushed for a three-strikes application, seeking 25 years to life in prison. “When you talk about crimes that involve guns [and] certain sex offenses, while they’re not defined by the Penal Code as serious, they are serious,” she told the Associated Press in January 2005. Harris’ position boiled down to an argument that she alone would define which offenses deserved a sentencing enhancement—and in her view, weapons charges always counted.
She would eventually abandon her anti–death penalty stance too. In 2014, as state attorney general, she appealed the decision of a judge who had ruled that California’s capital punishment scheme was unconstitutional, arbitrarily applied, and plagued with inexcusable delays. Curiously, she said the ruling “undermines important protections that our courts provide to defendants.”