Three strikes cases in California have the potential for some of the harshest penalties for criminal defendants. When a defendant hears the term “three strikes law” when defending a case, it calls for serious concern as a three strikes sentence can expose a defendant to serving 25 years to life in California state prison.
Three strikes is a sentencing scheme in California that has dramatically increased the punishment for people faced with criminal charges who have prior felony convictions. It means persons can face a prison term of 25 years or more for even petty offenses if they have a prior, criminal record, which includes serious felonies (“strikes”). Depending on which county in California you are charged with a three strikes offense including Los Angeles, Orange and Riverside County, an experienced criminal defense attorney can guide a defendant to an often successful defense of a three strikes case which could include complete dismissal of the strike. Luckily, as discussed below, a new law passed in 2012 has made it easier for an experienced criminal defense attorney to defend a three strikes case.
HERE ARE SOME THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:
Harsh Sentencing Guidelines Under the Three Strikes Law:
A defendant who commits any felony (the rule of “any felony” has been changed to “serious” or “violent” felony as discussed below) , that has two or more prior offenses that are “strikes”, must be sentenced to at least 25-years-to-life in State Prison. A defendant who commits any felony with one prior “strike” offense on his record must be sentenced to double the normal sentence.
Another harsh component of the law is that there is no reduction of sentence for good behavior with a three strikes conviction. A defendant who commits a felony with one prior “strike” offense on his record must serve at least 80% of his sentence in prison and good behavior credits cannot exceed one-fifth of the total prison term. Compare this to non-strike cases, where up to 50% of the sentence can be reduced because of good behavior credits.
What is the definition of a “Strike”?
A “Strike” is a prior conviction of a “serious” or “violent” felony. “Serious” felonies are those offenses listed in California Penal Code Section 1192.7 (c) (includes murder, mayhem, rape, sodomy by force, lewd and lascivious acts, assault, attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon, exploding a destructive device, first degree burglary, robbery, kidnapping, grand theft, carjacking, sexual abuse of a child, and certain terrorist threats) while “violent” felonies are those offenses listed in California Penal Code Section 667.5 (c) (includes many of these same offenses and “any felony in which the defendant inflicts great bodily injury on any person … or any felony in which defendant uses a firearm.”).
But in November 2012, a California voters passed “Proposition 36”, aka the Three Strikes Reform Act of 2012. The 2012 reform of California Three Strikes law means that in most criminal cases there will no longer be a mandatory 25-years-to-life sentence for a person whose third strike or current felony is not a violent or serious felony as discussed above. An overwhelming majority of California voters voted for this law…clearly showing that the public had finally had enough with the unfair and expensive older version of the Three Strikes system.6
Moreover, Proposition 36 allows people sentenced under the old Three Strikes law to petition for a reduced sentence if they would have been entitled to a lower term under the new law.
When did the prior offense have to occur in order to be considered a “strike”?
The 3 Strikes law went into effect on March 7, 1994. This means that the current felony must have occurred after March 7, 1994 to trigger these harsh sentencing guidelines. However, the prior strike convictions could have occurred at any time, even prior to March 7, 1994, and still count as “strikes”
With the passage of Proposition 36 in 2012, an experienced criminal defense attorney can successfully defend a person accused in a three strikes case.