Three Strikes Law

Three Strikes Law

Borrowing its name from baseball, the three strikes law imposed mandatory minimum sentences for individuals who have been convicted of three felony crimes that were committed on three separate occasions. The ideology behind the three strikes law is that individuals who commit more than two felonies are chronically criminal and therefore pose a threat to society. Three strikes law advocates, as a fair punishment and a benefit to society, thus view incarcerating these individuals for lengthy prison terms or the rest of their lives.

While the first “true” three strikes law was not passed until the mid-1990s, similar laws have been around for more than one hundred years. In the late 1800s, New York State passed the Persistent Felony Offender law which enhanced the penalty for repeat felony offenders. Such penalty enhancements were not applied to every case and judges had great discretion over an offender's sentence. The three strikes law leaves virtually no room for such discretionary power and is applied like a formula to every case.

In 1993, Washington was the first state to pass a three strikes law in the United States. The following year, a California ballot initiative proposed a three strikes law, proposition 184, which was approved by an overwhelming 72 percent of voters. Since the March 1994 passage of the California three strikes law, many states have implemented similar laws. As of 2004, the federal government and 26 states had passed a three strikes law.

Every state's three strikes law is applied a bit differently. The California three strikes law is the most sweeping of any state law. Some states require that all of the three felony convictions involve violent crimes for the three strikes law to apply. The California law and others apply their three strikes law to any case where the individual has two prior convictions for serious or violent felony crimes and commits any third felony crime. The third felony in these cases may something as minimally threatening as shoplifting a small item, but the three strikes law will still apply.

The consequences of the three strikes law have been odd, and arguably unfair, in some situations. For example, in California three men have been sentenced to prison for 50 years to life without possibility for parole after shoplifting golf clubs, videotapes, and a slice of pizza, respectively. These offenses, however, were not their first criminal acts. In some states, the individual must be convicted of two serious or violent felonies for the three strikes law to apply, while in others any felonies count towards the third strike.

The following list includes just a few examples of the types of felonies that are considered serious and violent:

  • murder
  • mayhem
  • kidnapping
  • assault
  • rape
  • sexual abuse
  • carjacking
  • malicious use of an explosive
  • torture
  • escape from a detention facility
  • drug offenses

Critics of the three strikes law cite many strong arguments against this harsh legal statute. Some critics argue that many of the crimes for which the three strikes law is applied do not involve a significant threat to society which would require an offender be locked up for 25 years to life without chance for parole. Another reason cited is the enormous cost of housing and caring for prisoners that are locked up under the three strikes law. Some people believe that the three strikes law actually provides an incentive for third strike felons to commit murder. The reasoning is that if one perceived that they would be given a murder sentence for any felony crime they commit, it might as well be murder itself.

So far, though many people have expressed serious objection to the law, the three strikes law remains constitutional. In 2003, the Supreme Court ruled that the three strikes law does not violate the Eighth Amendment of the US constitution which protects individuals against cruel and unusual punishment. Californians had an opportunity to vote in favor of an amendment to their three strikes law, though the proposal did not pass.

If you would like to learn more about the three strikes law, please contact us to confer with a qualified and experienced attorney who can evaluate your case to determine how best to protect your legal interests.

Related 3-Strike Law News

April 24, 2008 - Persistent Offender Bill OK'd by Connecticut Senate

July 31, 2007 - Kansas Senator Wants Prison Time For Repeat Offenders

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