In 1994, both the California voters, through the initiative process, and the state legislature, passed versions of the Draconian law that is known as “Three Strikes and You're Out.” The law drastically increases punishment for felony crimes when certain qualifying “strike priors” are alleged and proved. These “strikes” are enumerated in two sections of the California Penal Code: section 667.5 and section 1192.7. The “violent” felonies within the meaning of the law are set out at section 667.5, subdivision (c), and the “serious” felonies are found in section 1192.7, subdivision (c). You may find the law itself at Penal Code sections 667 and 1170.12.
If a person has previously been convicted of a “serious” or “violent” felony within the meaning of the law, and later suffers a new conviction for any felony, then his or her sentence may be doubled. At the time of its enactment, a person who had been convicted of two prior qualifying felonies, and later suffered a new conviction for any felony, could have been sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. However, in 2012, California voters approved Proposition 36. Proposition 36 generally required that the “third strike” (the current alleged crime) be a serious or violent felony within the meaning of the law for the person to qualify for a life sentence. Instead, a person with two prior “strikes” within the meaning of the law who now is convicted of a new non-serious or non-violent felony generally will face a doubled, rather than a life, sentence.
The appellate courts considering “Three Strikes and You're Out” issues over the years have upheld the law against many challenges. However, the California Supreme Court, in the case People v. Superior Court (Romero) (1996) 13 Cal.4th 497, ruled that judges may, in furtherance of justice, order so-called “strike priors” to be dismissed. A number of cases following the Romero decision have provided specific examples or otherwise given guidance to judges who are deciding whether or not to dismiss a prior “violent” or “serious” felony.
I have worked on “Three Strikes” cases since the laws were passed in 1994. I know the best way to present legal argument in support of striking a “strike” to the court and prosecuting counsel. I am also always mindful of the “Three Strikes” law's implications in any plea bargain that we are negotiating on behalf of our clients. I always seek to obtain the maximum number of time credits on the one hand and avoid, on the other, pleading to crimes that could be used in the future as strikes.
If you are seeking assistance for yourself or another person in a case involving the “Three Strikes and You're Out” law, please contact me today.