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Understanding California's "Three Strikes" Law

Being convicted of a felony crime in California is a serious deal. In addition to the heavy penalties and life-long consequences you could face, you could also be awarded a “strike” on your record. California has a “three strikes” law, which essentially states anyone who is convicted of three “striker” offenses will automatically be put behind bars for a minimum of 25 years with the possibility of being imprisoned for life. While these laws have been relaxed somewhat over the last several years, it’s still important that you fight back against any accusations you might face. Let’s take a closer look at these laws.

How the “Three Strikes” Law Works

The “three strikes” law was based in the aftermath of 18-year-old Kimber Reynolds and 12-year-old Polly Klaas by two men who had previous criminal records. The law’s intent was to prevent repeat offenders from being allowed back out into society where they could commit their crimes again. However, it quickly became apparent that the broad and far-reaching nature of this law threw many non-violent felony offenders into prison for decades as well, at the taxpayers’ expense, and laws have since been softened slightly to allow more non-violent offenders to avoid strikes.

Essentially, this law states that those who are found guilty of a serious felony offense will be given a “strike” on their record. Once someone accumulates three strikes, they face a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years in prison. Those who are found guilty of murder, rape, or other “super strike” crimes are often placed into prison for life after their third offense with little to no recourse for parole.

“Strike” Offenses

California Penal Code Section 667.5(c) lists the crimes that are considered “violent felonies” and are automatically considered “strike” offenses. This list is fairly broad and includes murder, rape, mayhem, and other violent crimes, along with many of their different related variants. It also lists crimes that inflict serious bodily injury on victims, and also has provisions for crimes that sustain a “California gang enhancement” or where the defendant personally uses a firearm in perpetrating the offense.

Juvenile offenders are not immune from this law either. As long as these three conditions are met, juvenile offenders can be issued a strike under the three strikes law:

  • The crime meets the definition of a violent or serious felony
  • The crime is listed in California Welfare and Institutions Code 707(b)
  • The offender was at least 16 years of age when the offense occurred

Flaws with the Law

Defense attorneys, convicts, and other advocates have long held that the state’s three strikes law is in some ways too harsh on convicts, even with the relaxed regulations. Some say the three strikes law could be considered “cruel and unusual punishment,” making it a violation of the Eighth Amendment. Others argue that the law is too much of a financial burden, forcing taxpayers to fund the cost of caring for aging inmates who pose no significant threat to the public. Still others say that the three strikes law has not actually led to a decrease in crime, a claim which is in some ways corroborated.

Are you facing a violent crime or serious felony charge? Call a Bakersfield criminal defense attorney from Campbell Whitten today at 661-735-1038 and start fighting back with a case evaluation.