The Questionable Legality Of Three Strikes Laws

In the mid-1990s, California was among 24 states to enact what would become known as a “Three Strikes” sentencing law. The laws were passed in an effort to curb recidivism rates and rates of repeat offenders. For the most part, these laws provided that a defendant who had been convicted of a serious felony would be sentenced to state prison for twice the term otherwise allowed for the offense if the sentencing was the result of a second conviction. When a person committed a crime with at least two other felony incidents on his or her record, the law dictated that the person would serve a state prison term of 25 years to life.

This law was not reviewed until 2012, when voters approved a slight change to the terms: The third felony, or the third strike, now has to be a violent or serious felony in order for the person to be sentenced to 25 years to life. The amended law also allowed prisoners who were currently serving time under the old provisions to petition the court for a reduction of sentence.

There are several arguments against Three Strikes policies—the most common of which is the argument that harsh sentencing laws are not a deterrent for crime. Instead, these types of laws result in overcrowded prisons and poor prison conditions, and their implementation does not reflect a reduction in the overall crime rate, whether serious or not. One alleged reason for this is that the majority of violent crimes are not premeditated; they are crimes committed in the heat of passion, anger, or when under the influence of alcohol. In these instances, when a person is about to commit a violent crime, he or she is not considering the punishment, regardless of how severe it may be.

There was also the problem—at least before the 2012 revision that changed the law in California—that a person could end up serving a life sentence for a relatively simple, non-violent offense. As such, the legality of Three Strikes laws was brought to the Supreme Court five times in the past decade.

If you or someone you know has been sentenced under Three Strikes sentencing and believe you may be unfairly serving time, the most important step is to seek legal counsel. Do not go through it alone. Contact a San Jose criminal defense attorney today.


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