Three Strikes law in California how does it work?

Recently on our legal forum a user asked, “I have been convicted of two felonies. I am currently out of prison on probation. I understand that if I am convicted of another felony I might go to prison for life. I live in the State of California. Can you give me more information about California’s three strike law?”

Overview of California’s Three Strike Laws

Controversial since its inception, California’s three strike laws is targeted at repeat offenders and requires the courts to sentence certain felons to prison for 25 years to life for a third felony conviction if they were convicted of two previous felonies.

The goal of the three strikes laws is to create a deterrent for criminals with a predilection to commit crime and to eliminate their access to additional potential victims. Currently there are twenty-eight states (e.g. Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin) which have some type of three strikes law, although the application and requirements vary by state.

Proponents vs. opponents of the Three Strike Laws

As mentioned above, the three strike laws are very controversial. Proponents of the law argue it is the goal of government to stop criminals from victimizing members of society.

Opponents of the law, however, argue the punishments are disproportionate to the crimes committed, the penalties may be discriminately applied, and the laws have led to increased racial disparity of those convicted. Opponents have also argued that they believe the law violates alleged criminals Eighth Amendment rights, increases overcrowding in prison, costs taxpayers a significant amount of money, does not reduce crime, and eliminates the opportunity for rehabilitation.

What do I need to know about California’s Three Strikes law?

Now, you specifically asked about California’s Three Strikes law. Prior to 2000, California had one of the most severe three strikes laws. In 2000, however, California voters voted to lower the penalties through Proposition 36. Additional changes to Proposition 36 were made in 2012. Most notably, the law now allows the following:

  • Convicted criminals will not be automatically be given a life sentence for a third felony unless the third felony is serious or violent.
  • The law allows certain convicted offenders who are currently spending time in prison to apply for re-sentencing if their third crime was a non-violent crime.

It’s important to note, however, that life terms may still be given for certain crimes even if they are non-violent. For example, life terms may be allowed if you were previously convicted of certain sexual crimes, such as rape or child molestation, your crime involved a gun, or you were previously convicted of murder. Talk to your lawyer if you have questions about your previous crimes and possible penalties for committing a third crime.

Californians send clear message with Proposition 36

Given the 2012 vote by California voters it seems that the citizens of that state have sent a clear message that they were not satisfied with the three strike laws and the unfair application of the law.

Although most would argue that law makers and voters who passed the laws in the 1990s had good intentions- like trying to lower recidivism rates- like other laws, there have been unintended consequences. Now voters are attempting to correct what some view as a misapplication of justice.

What does this mean for you?

If you are convicted of a third violent felony in California, you may still be sentenced to life in prison. If your conviction is for a nonviolent felony, however, it’s likely you will avoid a life sentence.

Regardless of your criminal offense, however, you will need to talk to a criminal lawyer if you are charged with a felony. Despite the modifications to California’s three strikes law, California lawmakers and citizens expect their laws to be upheld and may assess severe penalties for offenders.

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