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3 Strikes, You’re Out: Key Takeaways from the CA Three Strikes Sentencing Law

3 Strikes, You’re Out: Key Takeaways from the CA Three Strikes Sentencing Law

What Does California’s Three Strikes Law Entail?

In 1994, California voters passed the “Three Strikes and You’re Out” law which was well-intentioned but resulted in extreme, unintended punishments that didn’t fit the crimes in question. Under the law, if a defendant had two convictions for violent or serious felonies (“two strikes”) and was convicted of a third felony offense or “third strike,” they would suffer a life sentence no matter how minor their third felony crime was.

Specifically, if a defendant was convicted of a serious or violent felony and got convicted for a second serious or violent felony, they would have to serve twice the amount of time in prison otherwise imposed for the crime. For instance, if the provided penalty for their second felony offense was 5 years in prison, they would have to serve 10 years because of the Three Strikes law. If a defendant was convicted of a third felony, regardless of whether it was serious or violent, they were mandated to go to state prison for a term of 25 years to life.

As a result, far too many defendants were serving life sentences for offenses like robbery and possessing less than a gram of narcotics. The Three Strikes law was an arguable violation of human rights and the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishments. Many agreed that it was unfair and immoral to require defendants to serve life in prison for felonies that were not serious nor violent.

Thus, voters responded to this downfall by enacting the Three Strikes Reform Act (Proposition 36) in November 2012, which significantly revised the law with two key provisions:

  1. The requirements for sentencing a third strike offender were changed to require the third felony to be a serious or violent felony with two or more prior strikes for a defendant to qualify for a 25 years-to-life sentence
  2. The addition of a means that allowed defendants currently serving a third strike sentence to petition the court to reduce their term to a second strike sentence if they would have been eligible for second strike sentencing under the new law

In other words, a defendant with two prior serious or violent felony convictions who commits a third non-serious, non-violent offense would not have to serve a sentence of 25 years to life under Prop. 36. This reform was a cornerstone in helping prisoners avoid life-altering consequences that did not fit their convicted crime. Other noteworthy components and impacts of the Three Strikes Reform Act (Prop. 36), as provided by Stanford Law School’s Three Strikes Project, include:

  • It was the first voter initiative since the Civil War to reduce the sentences of inmates currently behind bars
  • In the first eight months of its enactment, over 1,000 prisoners were released from custody
    • Of these released prisoners, the recidivism rate is less than 2% charged with a new crime, a number well below state and national averages
  • Prop. 36 has saved California taxpayers between $10 and $13 million
  • If the reform is applied to all eligible inmate, Californians would save an estimated amount of almost $1 billion over the next 10 years

Is Your Loved One Eligible for Release?

Our Oakland criminal defense lawyer is committed to helping your loved one understand their legal options for release, if any. Once our team learns if your loved one is eligible for release under the Three Strikes Reform Act, we will provide hard-hitting legal counsel and advocacy at every stage of the process until a successful outcome is secured.

To get started, contact us at (510) 907-6600!