In 1994, through Proposition 184, California enacted the unduly harsh Three Strikes law, which was later codified by Penal Code 667. Under the Three Strikes law, a so-called repeat offender with one or more prior violent and/or serious felonies, would receive a harsher prison sentence for a subsequent qualifying felony conviction, with a defendant with two or more such prior convictions, receiving a mandatory sentence of 25 years to life. While the Three Strikes law has been widely criticized for leading to mass incarceration and for disproportionately affecting minorities and people of color, as well as for not having a significant impact on public safety, the law is still in effect and continues to have a severe impact on the lives of thousands of defendants.
Fortunately, in 1996, in the landmark case of People v. Superior Court (Romero), the California Supreme Court gave defendants a glimpse of hope when it held that a trial court, pursuant to section 1385(a) of the California Penal Code, may, on its own, and “in furtherance of justice” strike or vacate an allegation that a defendant has been previously convicted of a serious and/or violent felony.
In that case, the defendant, Jesus Romero, was charged with possession of 0.13 grams of cocaine. The offense by itself would have resulted in up to 3 years in prison. However, the prosecutor in the case also alleged that Romero had two prior “strike” convictions for residential burglary and for an attempted residential burglary, and under the new Three Strikes law, he was facing 25 years-to-life prison sentence for simple possession of narcotics.