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California’s Three Strikes Law

Nov 04 2015, by Jessica McElfresh in Criminal Convictions, Legal Blog

In place since 1994, California’s three strikes law imposes a mandatory sentence of 25 years to life on people who have committed three felonies. Despite its name, the three strikes law also imposes additional penalties on people facing their second felony charge.

In 2012, California voters passed Proposition 36, which reformed the three strikes law. The most notable change was that in the vast majority of cases, a person facing a third felony conviction would no longer receive a mandatory sentence of 25 years to life unless the third felony was “serious” or “violent.”

Your Three Strikes Could Occur in a Single Day

Unfortunately, the 2012 reforms did not affect what is possibly the most controversial aspect of California’s three strikes law: all three strikes may arise from a single case or criminal incident.

In 1997, the California Supreme Court upheld the possibility for multiple strikes to arise out of a single case in People v. Fuhrman. The defendant in that case asked that the court not count a vehicle theft and a bank robbery occurring the same day as two separate offenses for the purpose of applying the three strikes law. The Supreme Court disagreed and confirmed his 58-year sentence.

Why California’s Three Strikes Policy Is Misguided

From a purely logical perspective, it makes sense that every single felony could conceivably count toward a criminal’s strikes—even if they occurred during the same day. But considering the policy behind the three strikes law, this interpretation is questionable.

The purpose behind the three strikes law is to curb recidivism. Faced with large numbers of criminals who repeatedly broke the law, and who were obviously not being rehabilitated during their jail sentences, the legislature sought a way to keep these individuals behind bars in the interest of protecting the public.

But a person who receives two or three strikes arising from a single criminal occurrence has not even been given the chance to show whether he or she will be rehabilitated after serving time. The criminal justice system wrongly assumes that the person is a repeat offender, and imposes the same punishment that would be given to someone who systematically commits felonies after being released from jail.

How a San Diego Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help

Given the harshness of California’s three strikes law, it’s essential to avoid felony convictions. Many crimes in this State, such as aggravated battery or domestic abuse, are so-called “wobblers,” meaning that they can be either misdemeanor or felony convictions depending on the circumstances.

While the difference in jail time between each version of these crimes is reasonable, the potential consequences for the three strikes law are not. Some innocent people charged with these felonies may be over-eager to accept a guilty plea that gives them a misdemeanor conviction. For someone with prior felony convictions, the risk of going to trial and receiving a guilty verdict may be too great.

The best course of action is to have a skilled San Diego criminal defense attorney handling your defense. A lawyer can counsel you about your options for fighting your charge and help you build a strong defense that may allow you to avoid a conviction altogether.

McElfresh Law offers experienced San Diego criminal defense for a wide range of misdemeanor and felony charges. If you’ve been charged and want to discuss your case, you can call her today at (858) 756-7107 for a free and confidential consultation.