Overview of California’s Three Strikes Sentencing Law
Last Updated on January 8, 2021
In 1994, California imposed a radical new set of sentencing regulations that called for incredibly harsh penalties for individuals who were convicted of multiple crimes. The primary goal of California’s Three Strikes law is to deter individuals from committing crimes. However, the sentencing provision has mostly been responsible for unjustly sentencing criminal defendants to harsh criminal penalties for minor offenses.
As a result, California has taken steps to mitigate the negative consequences of the sentencing provision. However, California’s Three Strikes law still poses a serious threat to criminal defendants who have a prior felony conviction.
Original California Three Strikes Sentencing Guidelines
Under California’s Three Strikes law, criminal defendants who have been previously convicted of a “serious felony” face increased criminal consequences for future crimes. The sentencing guidelines work like this:
If you are convicted of a serious felony you will have one “strike” on your criminal record. The criminal sentence for this first felony conviction will not be affected by the Three Strikes Law.
When you are convicted of a second serious felony you will be sentenced to twice the amount of time in prison that is provided for that crime. So, if you have one strike on your record and are subsequently convicted of any second felony, the amount of time you will have to serve in prison will double. This second conviction will also add a second “strike” to your criminal record.
When you are convicted of any third felony you will automatically be sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. This mandatory sentence is imposed regardless of the penalties that are generally applicable for the most recent felony offense.
It is important to understand that, under the terms of the original law, only the first strike had to be a serious felony. Any subsequent felony convictions – regardless of the seriousness of the crime – would subject you to heightened criminal penalties.
What is a Serious Felony?
In order to get a strike on your record you must be convicted of a serious felony. California state law provides a lengthy description of the crimes that must be considered a “serious felony” for the purposes of the Three Strikes sentencing guidelines. Serious felonies in California, as defined in California Penal Code Section 1192.7 PC include, but are not limited to:
- Murder or voluntary manslaughter,
- Forcible sodomy or oral copulation,
- Lewd or lascivious acts on a child under 14,
- Any felony punishable by life in prison or death,
- Any felony involving a firearm causing great bodily injury or death,
- Attempted murder,
- Assault with a deadly weapon on a peace officer,
- Assault with intent to commit rape or robbery,
- Exploding a destructive device to causing great bodily injury, mayhem, or death,
- Any attempt to commit a felony punishable by life in prison or death, and
- Certain theft crimes.
Consequences of California’s Three Strikes Law
Under the 1994 law, the consequences of multiple criminal convictions skyrocketed if you have previously been convicted of a serious felony. This was true regardless of the seriousness of the crimes you are subsequently convicted of.
There were many cases where individuals with a strike on their record were facing mandatory terms of imprisonment (sometimes as much as a few decades) for committing relatively minor crimes. In 2003, at least 360 criminal defendants were serving life in prison for relatively minor shoplifting convictions.
Most would agree that sending someone to prison for the rest of their life because they stole a few items from a store is unjust. However, this was a reality under the original Three Strikes law.
Updates to California’s Three Strikes Law
In 2012, California residents were well aware of the flaws inherent in the Three Strikes law. As a result, they overwhelmingly voted to pass Proposition 36, which amended the sentencing guidelines. The 2012 amendment changed the Three Strikes law in two primary ways.
First, a criminal defendant can only be sentenced to 25 years to life in prison if they have two strikes on their record and are subsequently convicted of a serious felony. This removed the possibility of inflating the criminal penalty for less-serious and dangerous crimes. Under the new law, only a serious felony can send you away for 25 years to life.
Second, Proposition 36 offered relief to defendants who were currently serving a third strike sentence. If the defendant’s third strike was not a violent or serious felony, they had the right to petition the court to have their criminal sentence reduced.
New Changes Proposed in 2018
While Proposition 36 did a lot to reduce the negative impact of multiple convictions, the law still allows for the imposition of life without parole in situations where it is not necessarily warranted. Lawmakers in California have recently begun to discuss imposing changes to the Three Strikes Law to constrict when the penalty of life without possibility of parole can be imposed.
Under the proposed change, life without possibility of parole could only be imposed when the third conviction is for a violent felony, crime involving sex or a firearm, rape, child molestation, or murder.
Los Angeles Stops Considering Prior Strikes in 2020
On December 7, 2020, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office issued a special directive, stating that “sentence enhancements or other sentencing allegations, including
under the Three Strikes law, shall not be filed in any cases and shall be withdrawn in pending matters.”
In other words – if you’re arrested and have any prior Strikes on your record, LA prosecutors won’t increase the penalties you’ll face if you’re convicted. Your strikes won’t be part of the equation. Why? Because the DA’s office feels ” that punishment provided within the sentencing triad of the substantive charge(s) in this case are sufficient to protect public safety and serve justice.
Get Help Today
California’s Three Strikes Law increases the chances that repeat criminal offenders will spend a great deal of time behind bars. If you have a strike on your record, or have been charged with a crime that will put a strike on your record, it is important to speak with an experienced Los Angeles criminal defense attorney.
As a former prosecutor, Ambrosio Rodriguez has an incredibly in-depth understanding of California’s criminal laws and knows just how serious a strike can be. He will use his experience, insight, and passion to get the best possible outcome in your criminal case. Call The Rodriguez Law Group today to schedule a free consultation and learn more.