Lance Janssen hasn't led a charmed existence.

The Healdsburg man has a long criminal rap sheet, dating back to the late 1980s, and has spent much of his adulthood in jail and prison.

It looked like he was going away for life when he committed his third "strike" offense: Fleeing police last year through Fountaingrove in Santa Rosa with a loaded handgun under the seat of his motorcycle.

But fate finally smiled on the 45-year-old ex-con.

With the Nov. 6 passage of Proposition 36, which modified the three-strikes law to ease prison crowding, Janssen was able to avoid a recommended 50-years-to-life prison term and instead was sentenced to just seven years.

His relief was evident as he spoke in court Thursday morning.

"I don't want to be in trouble again," said Janssen, who was seriously injured when he crashed. "I'm very lucky."

Janssen is among the first in Sonoma County to be sentenced under the new policy approved by 69 percent of voters statewide and 76 percent in the county.

It changed the language of the landmark 1994 three-strikes law to require a third felony conviction be serious or violent instead of just any felony.

Now, criminals no longer can be sent away forever for relatively minor third offenses involving theft, simple drug offenses or some types of fraud.

Those who commit serious crimes, such as murder, child molestation or residential burglary, still face a minimum of 25 years to life.

"It's more in tune with what the people of California want," said interim Public Defender Kathleen Pozzi. "And it's beyond being fiscally savvy. It's just the right thing to do."

In fact, relatively few three-strikers in liberal Sonoma County have been sentenced to life terms for minor offenses. There's no one languishing for stealing a loaf of bread or getting caught with a joint.

District Attorney Jill Ravitch said any lifers who believe they fall under the new guidelines can petition to be resentenced. She did not know how many might do so.

She wouldn't say how she voted on Proposition 36, but noted the state prosecutors association opposed it.

"The change in law doesn't really impact the way we do business," Ravitch said. "Only in an extraordinary situation would we charge a three-strikes case where the commitment offense is non-serious or nonviolent."

Janssen's criminal history is extensive and includes domestic violence, theft, assault and drug offenses. He earned his first strike for threatening a girlfriend with a pellet gun when she wouldn't get off the phone. His second came when he beat another man in a bar fight.

Janssen was sentenced to prison in both cases.

"I've done a lot," he conceded in court.

His most recent felony stemmed from a chase with officers in the wee hours of June 28, 2011. He refused to pull over for a traffic violation and instead led officers along Bicentennial Way to Lake Park Drive, where he crashed his motorcycle on a curve.

Police found him in possession of a loaded gun.

He's been in jail since. Janssen was facing a life sentence earlier this year when Judge Jamie Thistlethwaite agreed to postpone the matter until after the election.

His lawyer, Richard Scott, argued that although he was armed, he was not intending to use the gun, so his third felony was nonviolent.

Prosecutors agreed with the interpretation but expressed concern that someone with his history could be a danger if released.

"But for Prop. 36, he would be sentenced to life," prosecutor Traci Carrillo told the judge.

You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or paul.payne@pressdemocrat.com.