California’s “Three Strikes” sentencing law was originally enacted in 1994. Although it has been slightly amended, the law still mandates harsh sentences for second and third felony offenses in California.
If you or someone you love already has one felony conviction in this state, you must understand fully the consequences of a second or third felony conviction in California.
HOW DID THE ORIGINAL THREE STRIKES LAW WORK?
The original Three Strikes law required a defendant who is convicted of a second felony charge, after a first conviction for a “violent or serious” felony, to be ordered to a California state prison for double the length of time that the offender would otherwise serve.
And after these first two “strikes,” a defendant convicted of any third felony would be automatically sentenced to 25 years-to-life under the original California Three Strikes law.
After less than two decades, the cumulative effect of the 1994 law became apparent to everyone in our state. People were serving life sentences for third strike convictions for what are normally considered trivial offenses.
Prisons grew overcrowded. Change became imperative.
HOW DID PROPOSITION 36 CHANGE THE THREE STRIKES LAW?
In 2012, Californians overwhelmingly voted in favor of Proposition 36. Its supporters claimed that sentencing reductions would save the state’s taxpayers more than $150 million a year.
Prop 36 substantially changes the original 1994 Three Strikes law in these two important ways:
1. Prop 36 revises the original law so that a life sentence is imposed only when a third felony conviction is for a “serious or violent” felony.
2. Prop 36 allows for the re-sentencing of an offender who is serving a life sentence, if that offender’s third strike conviction was not for a violent or serious felony.
Until Prop 36 took effect, the third felony conviction did not have to be for a “serious or violent” felony to trigger the 25-to-life sentence.
And even after Proposition 36, any second felony conviction still triggers a sentence that is twice the typical length of the sentence for that crime.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE IMPACT OF PROPOSITION 36?
When Proposition 36 first took effect, about 3,000 convicted felons in California became eligible to petition the court for reduced sentences.
Nevertheless, more than 8,000 convicted felons who are serving life sentences remain in California prisons under the Three Strikes law. Those are the convicts whose third strike was a conviction for a violent or serious felony.
WHAT CAN HAPPEN IF YOU ARE CHARGED WITH A FELONY IN CALIFORNIA?
If you are charged with any of the felonies named on this page, a conviction on that charge will count as a strike under the Three Strikes law, so avoiding a conviction is imperative.
Also, if you are charged with any of the felonies mentioned on this page, and if you have one or two prior felony convictions that count as strikes, you could be sentenced to serve a number of years – or even several decades – in a California state prison.
If you have a prior California felony conviction, you cannot afford another felony conviction.
Anyone who is charged with a felony in southern California must have the sound legal advice and aggressive representation that an experienced Long Beach criminal defense attorney will provide.
Your freedom and your future will be on the line.
WHAT ARE CONSIDERED SERIOUS OR VIOLENT FELONIES IN CALIFORNIA?
Under California’s Three Strikes law as amended by Proposition 36, these are among the felonies that are considered “serious or violent”: murder, rape, kidnapping, aggravated assault, aggravated robbery, and felony sex crimes.
However, and even with the changes to the Three Strikes law under Proposition 36, the state’s list of serious and violent felonies also still includes crimes like burglary, arson, selling drugs to a minor, simple robbery, and firearms violations.
WHAT ELSE SHOULD YOU KNOW ABOUT THE THREE STRIKES LAW?
Even a felony conviction as a juvenile can count as a strike if the juvenile was at least 16 years old when the offense took place.
California’s prison inmates typically earn credits for good behavior, and inmates exhibiting good behavior typically serve only half of their sentences.
California inmates who are serving time for a second or a third strike have little or no ability to earn good behavior credits.
For a second strike, an offender must serve at least 80 percent of the sentence before qualifying for release. For a third strike, inmates cannot compile good behavior credits.
Additionally, offenders who are convicted for second or third strike felonies in California:
1. are not eligible for probation
2. must serve the time in prison rather than in any community-based facility like a halfway house or a treatment center
IS THERE ANY HOPE IF YOU FACE A SECOND OR THIRD FELONY CHARGE?
Even with the Proposition 36 amendments to the Three Strikes law, it’s harsh. It was intended to be. But that doesn’t mean your situation is hopeless, even if you face a charge that could convict you of a second or third strike.
An experienced Long Beach criminal defense attorney will be able to help. Reach out for that help at once if you are arrested and charged with any felony in southern California.
In some circumstances, a prior strike against a defendant can be dismissed – that is, not counted as a strike. Judges and prosecutors have that discretion.
HOW CAN A CRIMINAL DEFENSE LAWYER HELP?
Your defense lawyer may be able to persuade the judge or prosecutor in your case not to count a prior conviction against you.
Your defense attorney can also file a “Romero” motion to have a strike against you dismissed “in the furtherance of justice.”
But even if you are convicted and you receive a strike, your defense lawyer may be able to help you with an appeal. In fact, several appeals of California three strike cases have already succeeded.
The defendants’ attorneys successfully argued that their clients’ prison terms under the Three Strikes Law were so inappropriately lengthy that the sentences constituted cruel and unusual punishment – a violation of the U.S. Constitution.
WHAT’S IMPORTANT TO REMEMBER ABOUT THE THREE STRIKES LAW?
If you are charged with committing any felony in the Long Beach or Los Angeles area or anywhere in southern California, you must take it seriously. The state of California does.
Especially if you are facing a possible second or third felony conviction in this state, you must get the defense representation you need as early as possible in the process.
When you are charged with a crime, you have the right to an attorney. Take full advantage of that right from the very beginning. Your freedom could depend on it.