California's Three Strikes Law Overview

BusinessLegal

  • Author Criminal Defense Lawyers
  • Published October 6, 2020
  • Word count 766

In 1994, California enacted a law that created harsher penalties for repeat offenders of very serious and violent crimes. The law mandated a doubling of prison time on a new felony conviction for defendants who have previously been convicted of one prior serious or violent felony and a minimum of twenty-five years to life for defendants convicted of at least two prior convictions of serious or violent felonies.

The law enacted is commonly known as California's Three Strikes Law (a reference to the sport of baseball where a player is out after three strikes).

​Under Three Strikes Law, a strike offense is any serious or violent felony that is listed in California Penal Code section 1192.7(c) or 667.5. The crimes listed in those penal code sections include variations of the following crimes: murder, torture, child molestation, manslaughter, arson, carjacking, kidnapping, residential burglary, mayhem, pimping by force, pandering by force, lewd act on minors, sexual penetration with object by force, robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, criminal threats, sodomy by force, sexual assault, hostage taking, human trafficking, attempted murder, and more.

​Three Strikes Sentencing Calculations

​First Strike Offense: No extra punishment other than the punishment generally associated with that particular crime. For example, if a defendant is convicted of the crime of felony criminal threats, a strike offense, the defendant will face up to three years in prison, which is the maximum prison sentence under that particular law. The defendant will also have a strike on his or her record after the conviction.

​Second Strike: If the defendant has one strike in his or her criminal record and the defendant is thereafter convicted of a subsequent felony, either a non-strike felony or a strike felony, the defendant will have the prison time associated with the subsequent offense doubled as a result of having a strike prior. In addition, the defendant will be required to serve at least 80% of his or her prison sentence for non-strike offenses and serious offenses, and 85% of his or her prison sentence of violent offenses (Reduced good behavior credits earned). For example, if a defendant has a prior strike conviction and is thereafter convicted of a new felony criminal threats charge, the defendant may face up to six years in prison (three years for the crime of felony criminal threats times two for a total of six years in prison). Remember it does not matter if the subsequent conviction of a felony is for a strike offense or non-strike offense for the penalty to double.

​Third Strike: If the defendant has been previously convicted of at least two strike offense and is thereafter convicted of a third strike offense he or she will face twenty-five years to life in prison.

Until 2014, if a defendant had suffered two prior strike convictions, and thereafter was convicted of any felony, whether the felony was a strike offense or non-strike offense, he or she would face twenty-five years to life. However, the voters of California, recognizing the harshness of California's Three Strikes Law, voted in favor of Proposition 36, which required that any third conviction of a felony, after suffering two prior strike convictions, must be a serious or violent offense (a strike offense) before the defendant faces the twenty-five years to life sentence.

​Two Strikes in One Case: In some situations, the defendant can be convicted of two or more crimes that are considered strike offenses. This does not mean that the defendant will suffer two or more strike convictions for the same criminal case. One criminal conviction equals no more than one strike...even if there is more than one strike offense alleged in the criminal complaint.

​Super Strike Distinguished: Some serious or violent felonies are considered super strike offenses. This means that the punishment for these offenses is twenty-five years to life in prison even if the defendant does not have prior strike convictions. Super strike crimes include the most serious and violent offenses, such as murder in the first degree, kidnapping to commit rape, assault with a machine gun on a peace officer, etc.

​Striking a Strike: In some cases, upon a request by a criminal defense attorney, a judge may strike the strike, which means that the judge, in the interest of justice, will not sentence the defendant according to California's Three Strike sentencing. The reasons that a judge might strike a strike include the length of time between criminal convictions and the underlining facts of any particular case. These requests to strike a strike are commonly called Romero motions after the name of the case that gave rise to this procedure (People v. Romero).

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