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.