Orange County District Attorney Press Release
For Immediate Release: December 21, 2012
Contacts: Susan Kang Schroeder, Chief of Staff, Office: 714-347-8408, Cell: 714-292-2718
Farrah Emami, Spokesperson, Office: 714-347-8405, Cell: 714-323-4486
SANTA ANA – The first Orange County Three-Strikes defendant to be resentenced under Proposition 36 (Prop 36) was ordered released today over the objection of the Orange County District Attorney’s Office (OCDA). Inmate/Defendant Dirk John Thomas, 51, filed a petition in Superior Court for consideration for resentencing. The defendant was serving a 25 year to life sentence stemming from a 1996 possession of stolen property conviction (see below).
Superior Court Judge Richard Toohey resentenced Thomas to six years in state prison, for which he received credit for time served, and the defendant was ordered to be released from the Correctional Training Facility in Soledad.
Assistant District Attorney Ted Burnett vigorously opposed Thomas’ resentencing on behalf of the OCDA, arguing that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. Thomas has a lengthy criminal history (see below), in which he repeatedly commits crimes every time he is released from prison and various courts have warned that the defendant is a danger to the community. In addition to his many convictions, Thomas confessed to police and probation officers in 1989 that he had committed over 100 burglaries and thefts, for which he had not been caught. The People argued that the defendant’s past history makes him an unreasonable risk to the public and his 25 year to life sentence is appropriate based on his demonstrated propensity for committing crimes while free in the community and failure to cease the criminal behavior despite repeated punishment by imprisonment.
What is Prop 36?
In 1994, California voters passed the Three Strikes Law, which allowed state courts to impose a sentence of 25 years to life in prison for defendants convicted of two prior serious or violent felonies upon conviction of a new felony offense. As Three Strikes sentencing is imposed at the discretion of the presiding judge, less than 10 percent of defendants eligible to be sentenced under Three Strikes in Orange County received the 25 year to life sentence.
On Nov. 6, 2012, Prop 36 passed in California, limiting the Three Strikes Law primarily to only offenders who had been convicted of “serious or violent” offenses as their most recent offense. Defendants who committed two violent offenses before committing a non-violent felony offense may be eligible. This proposition, among other things, authorizes re-sentencing for defendants currently serving Third-Strike life sentences if the defendant files a petition and the judge opines that resentencing does not pose an unreasonable danger to the public. To date, the OCDA has received 73 petitions for resentencing under Prop 36.
Thomas’ Criminal Background
Thomas has a lengthy criminal history, demonstrating an inability to follow the law or remain crime-free. Over a period of 15 years from 1981 to 1996, Thomas spent less than five years free from custody due to his frequent and repeated arrests and convictions.
In 1981, Thomas was arrested for a nighttime residential burglary and was sentenced to two years in state prison. This was his first Strike offense. He was paroled in 1983. Less than two months later in 1983, Thomas was again arrested for a nighttime residential burglary and was convicted of his second Strike offense. He was sentenced to five years in state prison and was paroled in 1986.
While out on parole, the defendant moved to Arizona to attend mechanic school, but was terminated due to excessive absence. Instead of gaining lawful employment, the defendant supported himself by committing burglaries. He later moved back to Southern California.
In 1988, Thomas was arrested for seven burglaries, including one residential and six commercial burglaries. A case was filed against him but dismissed in September of that year based on a suppression motion. Two months later, in November 1988, Thomas committed two commercial burglaries. He returned to the crime scene two days later and stole a car using keys taken in the burglaries. He was arrested for the car theft and sentenced to three years in state prison. Thomas was paroled in July 1990.
According to Thomas’ San Diego County Probation report in 1989, Thomas “described at some length the rather sophisticated means with which he makes tools to enter doors that have been locked with dead bolts and described how he took care not to leave evidence of his presence and to take things that would not be immediately missed such as checks from the back of a checkbook and other items which could not be traced easily.”
The probation officer noted that there is a good likelihood that, if not imprisoned, the defendant would continue to be a danger to the community, as the manner in which these crimes were carried out demonstrates criminal sophistication and professionalism, and cited seven other factors supporting denial of probation. He wrote:
The defendant does not appear to be remorseful. He spent considerable time blaming his drug use for his present predicament. He never expressed any regret for his actions toward either of the victims in this present matter.
The defendant is so sophisticated a burglar that he can manufacture a burglary tool so effective that some victims did not even know they had been burglarized until contacted by the police.
He is highly sophisticated, organized and from his statements – a premeditated criminal. We therefore find that the defendant is more criminally oriented by choice rather than an addict compelled to commit crimes.
The Probation Officer believes that the defendant is not amenable to any community based program and needs to be segregated from society, primarily for punitive reasons. The defendant understands the difference from right and wrong, he simply chooses to ignore it. The Probation Officer believes that the defendant has earned a return to State Prison for the maximum allowable tie.
During the time Thomas was in prison for the car theft, the OCDA successfully appealed the dismissal of the seven burglaries case from 1988 and the case was reversed. In August 1990, one month after being paroled for the car theft, Thomas was sentenced to 10 years in prison for the seven burglaries. The residential burglary count was his third Strike offense. He was paroled in April 1995.
In August 1995, Thomas was arrested for prowling. He was convicted in November 1995 and sentenced to 90 days in jail. Three months later, in February 1996, Thomas was arrested for the commitment offense that resulted in his Three-Strikes sentence of 25 years to life in state prison.
Thomas’ Commitment Offense
In February 1996, Thomas was on parole, employed as a door-to-door salesman, and on work release. His parole agent indicated that his performance on parole was poor.
On Feb. 27, 1996, a Huntington Beach Police Department (HBPD) officer observed Thomas driving a pickup truck with no registration on its license plate and discovered that the plates belonged to another vehicle. An HBPD officer pulled Thomas over in the vehicle and found him in possession of the truck’s correct license plates underneath the driver’s seat, as well as various burglary tools including black leather gloves, numerous latex gloves, wire cutters, numerous screwdrivers, and other items in a tool box. Even though Thomas claimed the wrong license plates were on the truck when he obtained it, he was in possession of a set of nuts and bolts to attach a license plate to a bumper. Thomas also possessed 11 stolen business checks. When he was interviewed at the Orange County jail regarding this incident, Thomas denied knowing how the stolen license plates got on his vehicle or how the checks got into his car. He instead stated that his girlfriend was responsible for the stolen checks and the license plate. He indicated that he had no remorse for his conduct.
In recommending the Court impose a 25 years to life in prison sentence for the defendant under Three Strikes on Nov. 16, 1996, the deputy probation officer wrote the following:
Before the Court is a 35-year-old defendant, who has been repeatedly sentenced to prison as a result of engaging in burglaries. According to the defendant, during his last prison commitment, he recognized the error of his ways and determined to refrain from further criminal conduct. The defendant’s behavior since being released from prison, however, suggests that, although he may have had good intentions while in prison, he clearly didn’t follow through on those intentions upon being released.
A mere four months after being paroled from prison, the defendant was arrested for loitering while engaging in behavior that was very similar in nature to that of someone “casing” a residence for a potential burglary or other property crime. While still on probation for that matter, as well as parole, the defendant then involved himself in the instant offense.
According to the defendant, he has no knowledge of how the stolen license plates came to be on his truck, this despite the fact that he had equipment on his person consistent with that used to change out or affix license plates to a vehicle. In addition, numerous latex gloves and a pair of leather gloves were found in the defendant’s vehicle, along with numerous tools that the arresting officer perceived to be potential burglary tools. It seems highly probable that the defendant changed out his license plates so that he could not be identified during whatever future activities he planned to engage in.
Given the defendant’s considerable history of criminal conduct, his continued law violations while on parole and probation, and the circumstances of the instant offense, it appears clear that the defendant will continue to victimize members of the community and as such, even if he were eligible for probation, is not a suitable candidate, but rather, has demonstrated that he is a career criminal. It will therefore be recommended that probation be denied.