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‘He’s a Free Man’: After Spending 27 Years In California Prison Under ‘Three Strikes’ Law, Black Man Gets New Lease on Life When Evidence In His Case Is Reconsidered

After 27 years of incarceration, a California Black man will soon be released from prison. A new review of his case discovered that there might not have been enough evidence to tie him to the robbery case he was convicted for.

According to ABC 7, Earl Snoddy is now a free man.

Earl Snoddy (ABC 13 Screenshot)

A jury in Compton convicted him of a 1995 robbery, despite Snoddy stating that he was not at the location of the crime at the time in question. Because of his previous run-ins with the law, Snoddy fell victim to California’s newly instituted three-strikes law, which penalizes repeat criminals harsher than those with clean records. 

The “Three Strikes and You’re Out” law was enacted by California voters in 1994, is a law that “imposed a life sentence for almost any crime, no matter how minor, if the defendant had two prior convictions for crimes defined as serious or violent by the California Penal Code.”

However, the man will be released in spite of the law, after his lawyer Matthew Barhoma was able to convince the DA the evidence did not conclusively tie Snoddy to the robbery and his client deserved freedom after decades of a clean record in prison.

Barhoma said, “Technically as of today he’s a free man.”

The attorney was able to raise questions about Snoddy’s conviction that made the state consider reducing the man’s sentence to time served.

Barhoma shared with the DA’s office issues about the crime, that made him take the case.

First, the lawyer found no hard evidence connecting his client to the robbery. Police arrested Snoddy, two blocks away from the crime, based on the victim’s description of the robber.

In addition to the identification, Snoddy’s criminal rap sheet should not have been a factor in this crime. Barhoma argues that just because he had a checkered past, does not mean he committed this crime.

“My team has looked into this conviction and have found very little reason to believe that Mr. Snoddy should have been convicted at all,” the lawyer said. “There’s strong indication of his wrongful convictions so much so, even the DA’s office, internal personnel have reached out to me and have even become appointed pro bono co-counsel on this case in being able to correct this conviction.”

The larger issue may be how the three-strikes system unjustly impacts the Black community, assessing if the punishment actually fits the crime.

In Elsa Chen’s study, “The Liberation Hypothesis and Racial and Ethnic Disparities in the Application of California’s Three Strikes Law,” the Santa Clara University Associate Professor reviewed 171,000 individual case records on inmates in the California prison system in September 2006. She examined how racial biases impacted the sentencing of African-American, American Indian, Latino, and Caucasian offenders through the lens of the state’s three-strike law.

Chen found that “African-American offenders were significantly more likely than whites and Latinos to receive third-strike sentences, regardless of the nature of their offense. The same is true for American Indians.”

Scott Ehlers, Vincent Schiraldi, and Eric Lotke noted in their published paper with the Justice Policy Institute, “An Examination of the Impact of California’s Three Strike Law on African-Americans and Latinos,” that California, the state that Snoddy was convicted in, aggressively uses the three strikes guidelines when sentencing non-whites. They found that since passing the law, California’s prison population has risen, while there is little evidence to show the law reduces crime.

The report, that curated research stated that at the time of the study “California had four times as many people incarcerated under Three Strikes as the other 21 Three Strikes states for which there were data, and that there was little link between the use of Three Strikes and declines in crime.”

This research showed that while Blacks make up 6.5 percent of the people in California, they make up almost 30 percent of the prison population. They also make up roughly 45 percent of the three-strikes population, almost equal to Hispanic and White men combined. This is the system that Snoddy found himself trapped in.

The conviction for this robbery and sentencing him under this law wiped three decades from his life.

The DA is offering Snoddy a lifeline to get out early. The state allows for lawyers to ask for their clients to have their sentences changed, provided they have demonstrated good behavior while incarcerated.

The attorney says, “This is a law that allows the DA’s office to recall, renegotiate on sentences, especially where there’s exemplary behavior. Here, Mr. Snoddy has exactly that, exemplary behavior.”

Snoddy will be released before the week’s end. His sister, Charlene Bickman, said she is happy about the arrangements being arranged to return him to his family before Valentine’s day.

“I’m trying to hold back the tears about my little brother and I love him to death,” the sister said. “We’re grateful, we’re thankful. I mean, there is justice here in this world and beyond measures, thank God for just putting good people in place.”

Snoddy plans to enter into a re-entry program to assist him in his integration into modern life. He was locked up before the widespread use of the Internet, social media, and cellphones.

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