The California Three Strikes Law is a sentencing scheme that was enacted into law in 1994 and has been a controversial topic ever since.
Under the Three Strikes Law, if a person has two or more convictions for serious or violent felonies, they must be sentenced to 25 years to life if they are convicted of a third.
The law was designed to target repeat offenders and prevent them from committing additional crimes. However, many critics argue that the the California Three Strikes Law is unfair and disproportionately affects minority groups and those with mental illnesses.
If you have been accused of a Three Strikes crime in California, it is important to understand how the law may apply to you. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you navigate the legal system and ensure that your rights are protected.
How does the California ‘Three Strikes Law’ work?
The Three Strikes Law is defined in California Penal Code 667(e). Essentially, if you have two or more serious or violent felony convictions on your record, and you are then convicted of a third felony, you will be sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.
The third strike applies to any felony offense, regardless of whether it is considered serious or violent.
In addition to the above, if a person is convicted of a felony and has one prior strike on their record, they will be sentenced to twice the term of their current sentence. For example, if someone is convicted of a 10-year sentence and has one prior strike, they will serve 20 years in prison.
There are some exceptions to the Three Strikes Law. If a person is convicted of a non-violent felony and has two priors for nonviolent felonies, they may not be subject to the 25-year-to-life sentence. Additionally, juvenile offenders are sometimes not subject to the law.
What is a serious or violent felony?
Under PC 667.5, a violent felony is any one of the following:
- Oral copulation by force, violence, duress, menace or fear
Serious felonies are defined in PC 1192.7(c), and can include:
- Any felony in which the defendant personally used a firearm
- First-degree burglary
- Sale of heroin, cocaine, PCP or methamphetamine to a minor
Impact on custody credits and consecutive sentences
Normally under California law, inmates are eligible for “custody credits” for time served with good behavior. This can sometimes lead to situations where inmates leave jail after serving 50% of their sentence.
Second or third strikers are required to complete at least 80% of their sentences before they can be released. This number rises to 85% for violent felonies.
Similarly, persons with prior strikes may not be eligible for concurrent sentences if they are convicted of multiple felonies. This means that if a person with one prior strike is convicted of two different felonies, they must serve their sentences consecutively instead of concurrently.
In other words, if a person with one prior strike is sentenced to four years for one felony and six years for another, they will have to serve 10 years in prison instead of the usual eight.
Can courts remove strikes?
The courts have the authority to strike or dismiss prior convictions in some cases.
A court may also strike a prior conviction if it finds that doing so would serve the interests of justice. This is typically only done in cases where the defendant does not pose a threat to public safety and the prior conviction is not particularly serious. This is done through a Romero motion.
An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you determine if your prior convictions may be eligible for dismissal under the Three Strikes Law.
Can you appeal a ‘Three Strikes’ sentence?
In November of 2012, California voters passed Proposition 36, also known as the “Three Strikes Reform Act”. This proposition amended the state’s Three Strikes Law, making it more lenient for those convicted of a third felony.
Under the old law, a person convicted of a third felony would be sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.
The new law allows for those with a third felony conviction to have their case re-opened and their sentence reduced if they can prove that they are not a danger to the public.
Can you get parole with a ‘Three Strikes’ conviction?
Yes. Even if you are sentenced to 25 years to life in prison, you may still be eligible for parole after serving a certain amount of time. The amount of time you must serve before being eligible for parole depends on whether the crimes you were convicted of were violent and your criminal history.
In November 2016, California voters passed Proposition 57, also known as the “Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act”. This proposition amended the state’s Three Strikes Law, making it more lenient for those convicted of a third felony.
Under the new law, a person convicted of a non-violent third felony can be eligible for parole.
How to fight a ‘Three Strikes Law’ charge
If you have been charged with a crime that could trigger the Three Strikes Law, it is important to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. An attorney can review your case and help you understand the charges against you and the potential consequences of a conviction.
An attorney can also help you develop a defense strategy and fight for a reduction or dismissal of the charges. In some cases, it may be possible to get the charges reduced to a non-strike offense or have the case dismissed entirely.
If you are facing Three Strikes sentencing, an attorney can also help you file an appeal or seek parole. An experienced attorney will give you the best chance of success.
Robert M. Helfend is a criminal defense attorney in Los Angeles, California. He has more than 30 years of experience defending those accused of crimes, including those charged with Three Strikes offenses. Call today for a free consultation – 800-834-6434.