High Stakes Under California’s Three Strikes Law

If you have been charged with a crime in the state of California, you may face doubly serious consequences if you already have a felony conviction on your record. This is because California has a Three Strikes sentencing law on its books. Enacted in 1994, the law was intended to deter repeat offenders by levying increased punishment on subsequent serious felonies. Specifically, at its inception, California’s Three Strikes law required that a defendant convicted of a second, third, or other felony to be sentenced to a prison term twice the length ordinarily provided for the crime. The “strikes” model is one of escalation – the more strikes on one’s criminal record, the greater the punishment. While a second felony strike doubles the stakes, a third may triple them or worse. Upon receipt of a third strike via conviction of a serious felony following two or more previous such convictions, a prison term of at least 25 years to life is to be doled out by the state.  Since 1994, California’s Three Strikes sentencing law has been subject to some important amendments. Now, as then, it must be said, the law is serious business. As such, individuals facing a potential second or third strike would do well to rely on the skill and expertise of California criminal defense attorney.

Understanding the Difference Between a Felony and a Serious Felony

Language matters in lawmaking. When the California legislature crafted the Three Strikes law in 1994, it was concerned with “serious” felonies. This may create some confusion, as it is common knowledge that a felony is already termed as such to designate a crime more serious than a misdemeanor. What, then, constitutes a serious felony? The following list makes clear the crimes that are regarded as serious, and thereby triggering the Three Strikes law, by the state:

  • Murder
  • Manslaughter
  • Burglary
  • Child Molestation
  • Stabbing
  • Robbery
  • Carjacking
  • Assault with a deadly weapon
  • Criminal threats

This list is not exhaustive, though it does cover the most common serious felonies. Under California’s law, conviction of any one of these crimes following conviction of one or more serious felonies will result in a lengthy prison sentence.

Recent Amendments to California’s Three Strikes Sentencing Law

In 2012, Californians voted to amend the state’s Three Strikes law.  Specifically, voters acted to modify the requirements pertaining to third strike offenders. Under the 2012 amendment, a third strike triggering a 25 years to life term of imprisonment must rise to the level of a “serious or violent” felony. The second most notable amendment to the law is a provision that affords certain defendants presently serving a third strike sentence with a mechanism by which they may petition the court for a reduction of their sentence to second strike status, if they would have been eligible for second strike status under the 2012 amended law.

If you have been charged with a felony and already have a prior felony conviction on your record, it is imperative that you contact an experienced California criminal defense attorney.  Doing so is the best way to protect your rights.