Overview Of California’s Three Strikes Law And How You Can Fight It

History of California’s Three Strikes Law

In 1994, Californians voted overwhelmingly for Proposition 184 and enacted the “Three Strikes and You’re Out” law, which was later codified by Penal Code §667. The goal of the new law was to increase public safety and to reduce the crime rate by giving repeat offenders harsher sentences. In its original version the law required that the sentence for any felony committed by a defendant with one prior serious or violent felony conviction be doubled, and imposed a sentence of 25 years to life to any person for any felony, if the person had two prior convictions for serious or violent felonies.

In the years since its inception, the Three Strikes law has had a devastating effect on thousands of defendants. The law has led to mass incarceration and has disproportionately affected people of color, as well as the mentally ill and physically disabled defendants. Moreover, while the financial cost to the taxpayers has been exorbitant, research has shown that the extreme sentences have had little to no effect on the reduction of crime rates.

Very early on, the severity of the new law was plainly visible in the landmark Romero case, where the defendant had two prior serious felonies and as a result faced a sentence of 25 years to life for simple possession of minor quantity of narcotics. In that case, the judge indicated that, if the defendant pled guilty, he would dismiss one of defendant’s prior strikes and sentence him to six years instead. On appeal, the California Supreme Court held that trial court has the power to dismiss a strike prior “in furtherance of justice.”

California’s Three Strikes Law Today

It took more than a decade after the Romero decision, but fortunately, in 2012 California voters approved Proposition 36, which amended the Three Strikes law, and limited its harshest provisions to those whose third strike is a serious or a violent felony. As a result of the amendment, thousands of inmates who had been sentenced under the original law would no longer be considered as third strikers. The provisions of the amendment were made retroactive, so if a person’s third offense is not serious or violent, he or she can appeal their sentence and be resentenced under the amended law.

If you or a loved one has been sentenced under the original law, you can contact the experienced appeals attorneys at the Justice Firm today for a case evaluation locally at (310) 914-2444 or at our Toll-Free number at (866) 695-6714, or click here.

While Proposition 36 limited the number of defendants that would face the harshest penalties of the Three Strikes law, the law is still here and continues to affect people everyday. As it currently stands, the law calls for double the prison sentence for a current conviction for any felony, if the individual has one or two strikes prior (serious or violent felony convictions), and for 25 years to life sentence for those with two strikes prior, if the current offense is a serious or violent felony.

Some of the felonies that the law categorizes as violent or serious include murder or manslaughter; rape; any felony in which the defendant inflicts great bodily injury on a person; oral copulation and sodomy by force; any robbery; attempted murder; arson; carjacking; kidnapping; burglary in the first degree; and the sale or attempt to sale or give to a minor any heroin, cocaine, phencyclidine (PCP), or any methamphetamine-related drug.

The above list is not exhaustive, and there are also exceptions where the third offense is not considered either violent or serious, but would still trigger the 25 years to life provision:

  • If the third offense is a drug related offense involving a certain amount of a controlled substance;
  • If the third offense is a felony sex offense and/or an offense that requires the registration as a sex offender;
  • If during the commission of the third offense, the person used a firearm, intended to cause great bodily injury, or had a firearm or a deadly weapon;
  • And if a prior strike was a particularly serious offense, including “sexually violent offenses,” murder, manslaughter, and sex offenses involving a child less than 14 years of age.

It is worth noting that, for purposes of the Three Strikes law, out of state convictions would be considered a “strike,” if the offense includes all the elements of a particular violent or serious felony as defined in the California Penal Code.

Finally, certain prior juvenile convictions would be considered a strike prior, if the defendant was 16 years or older at the time of the commission of the crime.

How To Fight the Consequences of the Three Strikes Law

The consequences of a charge under the Three Strikes Law can be draconian, however, there are several ways a defendant can fight the severe penalties triggered by the Three Strikes law.

First, as already mentioned above, if you have already been convicted and the third conviction is not for a serious or violent felony, you can appeal your sentence. In addition, you may be eligible for parole. In 2016, California passed Proposition 57, which amended the state’s Constitution and allowed defendants who were convicted of a nonviolent felony offense to apply for a parole consideration after completing the full term of their primary offense. In 2018, in the In re Edwards case, the California Court of Appeal confirmed that the amendment applies to “third strike” nonviolent offenders as well.

Furthermore, some of the recent reforms to the California criminal justice system have given additional options to defendants to have their sentences reduced. One such option is for defendants to petition the district attorneys to revisit and re-evaluate their sentences and, in the interest of justice, to recommend a sentence recall and reduction under AB 2942.

Finally, if you are currently facing a charge that could put you under the realm of the Three Strikes law, you can take advantage of a Romero motion and ask the judge to dismiss a strike prior. Furthermore, PC §667 requires that a district attorney has to prove the strike allegations, i.e. has to prove that you actually have the strike priors. This requirement opens the door for a defense attorney to argue and challenge whether an alleged strike is actually a strike.

At the Justice Firm, we know that the attorney-client relationship is an important aspect of your legal journey and our highly skilled and experienced attorneys are here to help and answer any questions you might have. If you or a loved one is currently serving a sentence under the Three Strikes law or is facing a charge under it, contact our California attorneys today for a case evaluation locally at (310) 914-2444 or at our Toll-Free number at (866) 695-6714, or click here.

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