Three Strike Laws
California has one of the aggressive laws in the U.S. in its Three-Strike law. The passage of this law in 1994 meant years added to the sentences of many defendants who are convicted under the provision. In some cases, even relatively minor offenses have resulted in life imprisonment if it is prosecuted as a third strike.
Southern California Crime attorneys at Fakhimi & Associates understand the seriousness of these cases and the harsh reality of what they mean for many families. We work tirelessly for defendants facing these devastating violations. We know that when this law was passed, it meant every crime had to be defended in a new and more vehement manner. While a first-time “strike” may only result in probation, it also places defendants one step closer to spending the rest of their lives in prison if they ever again find themselves in legal trouble in California.
A second strike results in a doubled sentence, and can render California defendants ineligible for sentencing alternatives, meaning they will have to serve their time in prison. Offenders will also be ineligible for any meaningful early release, as they will have to serve at least 85 percent of their sentence before they can even apply.
What many don’t know is that juveniles are not exempt from the Three Strikes law. A crime committed as a juvenile over the age of 16 can be marked as a strike (albeit under limited conditions). A conviction on three of these crimes – even committed prior to one’s 18th birthday – can result in a sentence of 25-years-to-life.What Counts as a Three Strikes Crime in California?
Not every crime will count as a strike against someone.
Some of the crimes that may be considered “strikes” include:
- Most felony convictions
- Felonies in which defendant personally inflicted great bodily harm on victim
- Felonies with a sustained California gang enhancement
- Felonies in which defendant used a firearm
It’s important to also understand that a defendant could potentially receive more than one strike in a single trial.How did the Three Strikes Law Get Passed?
As mentioned, California’s Three Strikes Law was enacted in 1994 by popular vote. It came on the heels of the murders of Polly Klaas and Kimber Reynolds, a child and young woman killed by men with long criminal rap sheets.
Originally, the law imposed a life sentence for any crime – no matter how seemingly insignificant – if he or she had two prior convictions for crimes deemed serious or violent under state law. The original intent was to ensure child molesters, rapists and murderers spent the rest of their lives in prison.Why are Three Strikes Laws Bad?
These laws have become something far more dangerous as they’re designed to filter only society’s most dangerous or habitual criminals. Many defendants found themselves serving life sentences under the Three Strikes law for non-violent offenses.
These have included:
- Stealing loose change from a parked car
- Trying to break into a soup kitchen
- Possessing a small amount of narcotics
For these offenses, the state of California has locked people up for life. And this is not an uncommon occurrence. In fact, 1 out of every 4 offenders serving life sentences in California prisons are Three Strikes offenders.
The number of offenders serving second- or third-strike sentences for minor theft crimes with a prior history is more than double the number of offenders serving life sentences for murder.Can’t the Three Strikes Law be Changed?
Yes, and in fact, there was reform to the Three Strikes Law in 2012. Proposition 36 grants some relief in that a person whose third strike is not deemed a serious or violent felony need not be mandatorily sentenced to 25-years-to-life. It provides a bit more leeway for judges, district attorneys, and the overall California criminal justice system.
Not only that, but people still serving extended sentences for seemingly minor offenses under the old law can petition the court for a reduced sentence. It’s affected many lives for the better.
There are still some exceptions to this provision. If the third offense involves possession for resale, sale, transportation or manufacturing of methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin or other similar drugs, it is still considered a “strike.” So too is any felony sex offense that requires mandatory sex offender registration (including indecent exposure). Any offense involving a firearm or other deadly weapon or the intent to greatly hurt someone will also fall under the umbrella of exception to the new relaxed rules.
So while the new provisions are certainly an improvement from the first form of the law, the Three Strikes Law even in its current form still poses a significant threat to defendants.
The law continues to disproportionately impact minority defendants, does not lead to a reduction in crime, leaves no hope for rehabilitation, is enormously expensive and can sometimes violate the Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment. Having a veteran California Crime Attorney handle your case is imperative.Romero Motions
In some cases, even when all three crimes are legitimately “strikes” under the law, a defense attorney may seek to file a “Romero Motion.”
It’s titled after the case of People v. Romero, where a local judge overseeing a drug crime that normally would have netted defendant three years was faced with a mandatory requirement to impose a life sentence, due to the Three Strikes Law.
To counter this injustice, he exercised judicial discretion and dismissed defendant’s serious felony convictions “in the furtherance of justice.” That decision was ultimately upheld by the California Supreme Court.
This power is limited, but it does provide hope to defendants hoping to avoid a life sentence under the Three Strikes Law.
As you can, these cases are complicated at best. If you’ve been charged with a crime, even if it’s your first arrest, it’s absolutely imperative that you not underestimate the importance of a strong defense. The sooner you have proper legal representation, the better. Give us a call today to discuss your options.