California’s Three Strikes Law: What you Need to Know

California’s Three Strikes sentencing law was enacted in 1994. The law enacted a life sentence for essentially any offense, even an extremely minor one, if the offender has two previous convictions for “serious” or “violent” crimes (according to the California Penal Code). Under the law, if a defendant is convicted of any felony, and already has a prior conviction of a serious or violent felony, the defendant will be sentenced to twice the prison term originally provided for the felony. If a defendant is convicted of any felony with two or more prior felony convictions (or “strikes”), the sentence is a prison term of at least 25 years to life. The three strikes sentencing structure was enacted to ensure that violent offenders are kept off the streets. However, an unfortunate side effect of this law has sentenced over half of inmates convicted under it for nonviolent crimes.

How is a “Serious” or “Violent” Felony defined?

Serious and violent felonies are defined in California Penal Code sections 667.5(c) and 1192.7(c). These types of felonies include burglary, robbery, kidnapping, murder, sex crimes, any offense in which a weapon was used and/or serious bodily injury occurred, arson, crimes involving the use of explosives, or any attempt to commit the aforementioned crimes.

Convictions with One Prior Strike

A defendant convicted of a felony with one prior strike is obligated to go to prison; the defendant cannot be sent to rehab or placed on probation. The prison sentence is two times the sentence originally recommended for the offense. The defendant must serve 80% of the sentence and is not eligible for a reduced sentence for good behavior or working during the prison sentence.

Convictions with Two or More Strikes

If a defendant has two or more prior strikes, he or she faces minimum 25 years to life in prison, with no chance to earn time off or a reduced sentence for good behavior or work. After the defendant serves the minimum sentence (i.e. 25 years if sentenced to 25 to life), the defendant would be eligible for parole. If a three strike defendant is sentenced to life in prison, they are not eligible for parole at all.

In 2012, California Proposition 36 Changed the Three Strikes Law

Proposition 36 was approved in the November 2012 election. It revised the three strikes law in the following ways:

  • It imposes life sentences on the third strike only when the new felony committed is actually considered serious or violent.
  • Allows for re-sentencing for those serving life sentences due to a third strike conviction that was not serious or violent.
  • Life sentence penalty is still imposed if strike three was for certain non-serious, non-violent sex or drug offenses or firearm possession. Furthermore, the law maintains a life sentence for felons convicted of a non-serious third strike if the prior convictions involved murder, rape, or child molestation.

Contact the Law Firm of Sean F. Leslie

The criminal defense attorneys at the Law Firm of Sean F. Leslie have successfully argued many cases involving the Three Strikes Law, and have persuaded the judge and district attorney to negate the strike enhancement allegation. If you have been arrested and charged with a strike crime, contact our offices as soon as possible. Our attorneys are dedicated to ensuring your rights are protected.