Enacted nearly 20 years ago, California’s three-strikes law governs the sentencing of habitual offenders in the state. This law’s draconian guidelines resulted in thousands of excessive sentences for nonviolent offenders. Fortunately, in November 2012, with the passage of Proposition 36, Californians voted to change the laws to promote fairer sentencing of nonviolent offenders.
In the 25 years since Takakjian & Sitkoff, LLP was founded, our lawyers have witnessed many unjust rulings that resulted from the three-strikes law. We fought for our clients who faced sentencing under the harsh three-strikes statute, and we continue that fight for inmates who are entitled to relief under the revised Proposition 36 guidelines.
History of three-strikes sentencing
In 1994, California voters passed Proposition 184, the ballot measure that created the habitual offender statute commonly known as the three-strikes law. Proponents of this sentencing mandate promoted it as a way to get violent criminals off the streets. In reality, the statute instead sent nonviolent repeat offenders away for life, often for petty crimes. To make matters worse, the California Supreme Court ruled in 2009 that serious felonies committed by minors — even if handled through the juvenile justice system — count toward the habitual offender guidelines. This means that a court could consider a juvenile strike when sentencing an adult repeat offender.
According to the Stanford Three Strikes Project — a clinic staffed primarily by Stanford Law School students that addresses excessive sentencing — more than 4,000 inmates are currently serving life sentences for nonviolent offenses. During its case investigations, the project found that crimes that received a third strike leading to life imprisonment included stealing $1 in change from a parked vehicle, possessing less than one gram of illegal drugs, and trying to break into a soup kitchen.
Habitual offender statute guidelines
Under the three-strikes guidelines, you receive an enhanced sentence for a:
- Second-strike offense — If you have a previous conviction for a violent or serious crime, the sentence for your second offense is twice the jail term mandated by law for the crime. The second strike applies to a conviction for any felony offense, which does not have to be a violent or serious offense.
- Third-strike offense — If you have two previous convictions for violent or serious crimes, the sentence for your third offense is life in prison with no possibility of parole until at least 25 years have been served. And even then, you must win approval from the Board of Parole Hearings (BPH) for release unless the court has sentenced you to more time or specified no parole. Again, the third strike applies to a conviction for any felony offense, not just for violent or serious offenses.
What crimes are considered violent or serious?
For purposes of the three-strikes law, California divides felonies into violent crimes, serious crimes and nonviolent felonies. Whereas violent crimes are also typically classified as serious, some serious crimes may not be regarded as violent, and some felonies are neither serious nor violent. These include:
- Violent crimes — Crimes classified as violent and serious are murder, robbery and rape.
- Serious crimes — Some offenses may be considered serious but not violent, such as assault with intent to commit robbery.
- Offenses that are not classified as violent or serious — Felonies that do not fall in either the serious or violent category include grand theft and possession of a controlled substance.
Learn how the three-strikes law affects your case
For more information on California’s three-strikes law, call Takakjian & Sitkoff, LLP at 888-579-4844 or contact us online. We discuss your options at your free initial consultation. Our law firm represents clients in the criminal courts of Los Angeles, Ventura, Orange and the surrounding counties.