California’s Three Strikes Law
The Three Strikes Law is a California sentencing guideline that imposes longer prison terms on certain types of repeat offender. When enacted in 1994, it mandated that a defendant with a prior serious felony conviction receive twice the prison term normally called for if they are convicted a second time. A third conviction was automatically punished by 25 years to life.
The law had been passed at the height of the anger following the murders of Polly Klaas and Kimber Reynolds by defendants with previous felony convictions. Its intent was to protect the public from violent repeat offenders, but amendments were introduced over to the years to counter criticism that the law violated the Eighth Amendment constitutional right against cruel and unusual punishment and disproportionately impacted minority defendants.
In November 2012 the Three Strikes Law was significantly amended by Proposition 36, which introduced two major revisions:
● For a defendant to be punished as a ‘third strike’ offender, the third felony had to be a serious or violent one
● Defendants currently serving a sentence for their third strike were permitted under certain conditions to petition the court to reduce their term to a second strike sentence
For a conviction to count as a strike under the three strikes system, it must be for a serious or violent felony. Serious felonies that qualify are defined in Penal Code Section 1192.7(c) while applicable violent felonies are listed in California Penal Code Section 667.5(c).
In general, felonies that have an element of violence will count as strikes: both specific crimes such as murder and sexual assault and conduct-related offenses such as felonies that involved a gang enhancement, great bodily injury to the victim, or use of a firearm./p>
Juvenile convictions can count as strikes if the following conditions apply:
● The conviction is for an offense that meets the California Penal Code definitions of a serious or violent felony
● The defendant was at least 16 years old at the time of the offense
● The offense is listed in California Welfare and Institutions Code 707(b)
Convictions in other state court systems count as strikes under the Three Strikes Law if the offense would have qualified in a California court. Unless a judge converted a felony to a misdemeanor prior to sentencing, prior felony convictions will apply even if they were converted later on or even stayed.
There are a few exceptions to the rule that the third conviction must be for a serious or violent felony to earn the maximum penalty. The offenses and conditions listed below can result in the ‘last strike’.
● The sale, possession for sale, transportation, or manufacturing of heroin, cocaine, meth, and related substances
● Certain felony sex offenses or felony offenses that requires sex offender registration
● Using a firearm or deadly weapon to facilitate the third offense
● Previous conviction for one or more of the following strike
offenses: sexually violent crimes; forcible sexual penetration, sodomy, or oral copulation committed on a child under 14 who is more than 10 years younger than the defendant; lewd acts with a minor under 14; manslaughter, murder or solicitation to commit murder; assault with a machine gun on a peace officer or firefighter, and any serious or violent felony punishable by life in prison or the death penalty.