How Does Three Strikes Law Work in California?

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This law came into effect in 1994, in an attempt to curb crime rates. Essentially, it proposed a much stricter punishment for people who were convicted of a felony if they had prior serious or violent felony convictions. These priors were named ‘strikes’, hence the 3-strike law. If you

Definition of a Felony

Before we can continue the discussion about this problematic law, we need to define some basic terms. A felony is a criminal act punishable by a state or federal prison, as opposed to a county jail. Felony is more serious than a misdemeanor, but it is still a very broad category. It includes everything from petty theft to rape and murder.

What Is a ‘Violent or Serious Prior’?

In order to be convicted under three strikes law rules, the defendant needs to have two priors which are deemed violent or serious. Even though this may seem a bit arbitrary and open to interpretation, this category is actually very well defined and documented in Section 667.5(c) and 1192.7(c) of the Penal Code.

Crimes included in this category are murder, kidnapping, most sex offenses, but also burglary and robbery. Additionally, any crime where a weapon was used, regardless of whether anyone was injured, arson and crimes involving explosive devices are on this list as well. Any attempt to commit any of these crimes is also considered a ‘violent or serious’ crime and can be used as a strike. A good example of this can be found here

Second Strike

Even though the law is called three strikes, even after the first strike, things get much more serious for the defendants. If convicted, these people must serve prison sentences. That means that they cannot be sent to a rehabilitation facility or given probation.

What’s more, they need to be sentenced for a duration which is at least twice as long as the sentence for a first-time offender. Bad news doesn’t stop there, however. They must serve at least 80% of their sentence, compared to a third or a half of the sentence that non-strike prisoners typically serve, provided they display good behavior and do some work while in prison.

Third Strike

A person with two strikes who is accused of a felony faces a truly draconic punishment – 25 to life. Additionally, no time off is awarded to these prisoners, even if they are model prisoners and work hard.

After they have served the minimum (which is 25 years), they are eligible for parole. However, since there haven’t been any inmates who have served the required minimum, there’s no knowing whether this parole will be granted. The first cases of parole-eligible three-strikers will come up in 2019.

Is Three Strike an Obligatory Punishment?

There are instances when the Three Strike Law is put aside. The court itself or the prosecutor may feel that the second or the third strike are not in line with the serious and violent nature of a ‘strike-worthy’ crime. The courts have had this right since 1860, in order to ensure the implementation of justice. However, they need to state explicitly why they are putting strikes aside. This move can be appealed by the prosecution and it needs to be reviewed by the Court of Appeals.

Just because it’s possible, it doesn’t mean that it is practiced often. In most cases, it’s because the third crime is a minor one, or the previous crimes happened a long time ago.

What’s the Problem with the System?

Even though a lot of people voted to implement it, most of them weren’t familiar with the full scope of this law. What people mostly focused was that it would put away repeat felons with multiple rape, murder, and armed robbery charges.

However, the majority of those convicted were on the less violent and serious end of the felony spectrum; people like petty thieves and drug users.

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September 30, 2017 · Tim Kevan · Comments Closed
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