The case has been widely cited by those pushing to change the law, including civil rights activists and the Los Angeles district attorney, as an example of the kind of heavy-handed sentencing it can lead to.
Judge Peter Espinoza of Superior Court, who ordered the release, said convictions under the three-strikes law — which calls for heavy sentences for a third conviction — had often brought “disproportionate” sentences and “resulted in if not unintended, then at least unanticipated, consequences.”
Several of Mr. Taylor’s relatives attended his hearing Monday afternoon.
Mr. Taylor, 48, is one of 14 California inmates who have been resentenced since students working on the Three Strikes Project at the Criminal Defense Clinic at Stanford Law School began reviewing cases in 2007, said Michael Romano, a law professor who helped found the clinic.
Gov. Pete Wilson signed the law in 1994. Twenty-four states have similar laws, according to the Sentencing Project, a national defense advocacy group.
In 1997, Mr. Taylor was homeless and sleeping at a church in downtown Los Angeles. One night, he tried to pry open the doors of the soup kitchen there because he was hungry, he told the police at the time. Judge James Dunn sentenced him to 25 years to life under the three-strikes law. In 1984 and 1985, Mr. Taylor had committed two robberies to support his crack cocaine and heroin addictions. He had no weapons during those robberies, and nobody was injured, according to case records.
Law students are reviewing about 20 more three-strikes cases, said Reiko Rogozen, a student who worked on the Taylor case. The cases are chosen based on letters from inmates, or are selected from a list presented by District Attorney Steve Cooley of Los Angeles as some of the harshest sentences under the law. Mr. Cooley often spoke of Mr. Taylor’s case in his 2000 campaign for district attorney against Gil Garcetti, who supported the law.
“Some have come off that list because we know Cooley may be sympathetic to those,” said Gabriel Martinez, who worked on Mr. Taylor’s case. “We want to start influencing case law and hopefully the overall policy so it no longer gives life sentences for nonviolent offenses.”
On Monday, Mr. Taylor’s relatives erupted in applause after Judge Espinoza ordered that he be released for time served. Ms. Rogozen put a hand on Mr. Taylor’s shoulder. He nodded and said quietly, “Thank you for giving me another chance.”