The three-strikes law in California has changed in recent years, but the sentencing guidelines remain harsh. So, if you've been convicted of serious felony "strike" offenses like murder, robbery, or violent crimes in the past, don't risk a second offense that could land you in jail for a long time. To defend your case, contact an experienced Criminal Defense Lawyer.

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Find A Criminal Lawyer to Get You Our of Three-Strike Crimes

Few California laws have received as much coverage or as much criticism as the Three Strikes sentencing legislation. California's Three Strikes Law is a tough-on-crime initiative that raises penalties for repeat offenders. Under the original Three Strikes Law, three-strike cases became "life" cases, which included cases where the third "strike" may be a minor, non-violent felony.

What Are Three Strikes Laws and How Do They Work?

24 states enacted three strikes legislation between 1993 and 1995. In response to public outrage, these laws were enacted that states were releasing repeat violent criminals back into the streets too easily.

Three strikes laws were first enacted in Washington and California. The term "three strikes" stuck as other states followed suit. Even though they shared the same name, state laws differed and continue to vary today.

Regardless of whether or not there are three-strikes laws in place, people with a criminal record are more likely to receive harsher sentences. For example, anyone who has previously been convicted of driving while intoxicated (DUI) will almost certainly face tougher penalties if convicted of DUI again. On the other hand, the three-strikes rules mean that some types of criminals face far harsher sentences if they re-offend.

Three strikes laws compel judges to sentence a person convicted of three or more felonies to a considerably longer sentence than the sentence that would be imposed if each crime were dealt with separately. These defendants are often referred to as "career criminals" or "habitual offenders" by the law and the courts.

When adding up the "strikes" against you, the courts can take into account convictions prior to the passage of the "three-strike" statute, convictions from other states, federal convictions, and, in some cases, juvenile convictions. The terrifying possibility is that if you have previous felony convictions, the court will upgrade a minor crime, such as petty theft, to a "strike" charge. Consider one of our prescreened California Lawyers in your Cal Bar Attorney Search.

The following are some examples of strikes:

  • Arson

    • An individual is guilty of arson if he or she "willfully and maliciously sets fire to, burns or causes to be burned, or helps, counsels, or procures the burning of any building, forest land, or property," according to Penal Code 451.
    • A breach of Section 451 is a crime punishable by a minimum term of sixteen months in state prison and a maximum sentence of three years. These sentences do not contain any sentence enhancements, which are often used to lengthen sentences. Probation can also be granted, especially if the facts of the case are not particularly serious and the defendant has no previous criminal record."

  • Murder

    • Some Criminal Defense Lawyers will respond to the question raised in the title by stating that all murders are second-degree murders unless one of eight conditions exists. After all, this is how the jury guidance for differentiating the degrees of murder, CACI 521, reads. To receive this jury instruction, the jury must first conclude that defendant committed an act that resulted in the death of another person or a fetus; that defendant acted with "malice aforethought;" and that defendant killed without lawful reason or excuse.

  • Rape

    • Rape is described as having sex or attempting to have sex with an unwilling, unknowing, or unconscious person by using force, threats, fear of immediate harm, drugging the victim, or other illegal means. Sexual battery refers to unwanted sexual contact. Sodomy or oral copulation with an unwilling, unknowing, or unconscious survivor are examples of similar offenses.

  • Kidnapping

    • The majority of child abduction charges are filed against non-custodial parents who fail to return their children after a scheduled visitation. However, in California, the charges can be used in both directions. A custodial parent could be charged with child abduction if the child is not present for pick-up or drop-off at a scheduled visitation for the non-custodial parent. A federal charge of kidnapping may be filed against the abductor if the child is transported across state lines in a child abduction case.

  • Assault with a deadly weapon

    • Assault is described as putting someone in fear of being battered. Battery is the illegal application of force to another person that results in aggressive or unwanted touching or injury. To commit assault, one does not need to physically contact another person. An individual must only act or talk in such a way that the other person believes they are in immediate danger of harm.
    • An assault does not have to result in an accident in order to be convicted. It's enough to be called assault if you're afraid of getting hurt. Assault is described in California as an attempt to cause a violent injury to another person without their consent. The person who commits assault behaves in a way that may result in another person being battered.
    • Assault with a deadly weapon is a more complex charge in California. Aggravated assault is another term for assault with a deadly weapon. When a person commits an aggravated assault, he or she commits a physical act that causes significant bodily harm. A dangerous tool, such as a knife or a pistol, is used in this act.
    • Assault with a deadly weapon, like assault, can occur without causing bodily harm. It can only be based on a fear of bodily harm and the use or threat of using a lethal weapon.

  • Home invasion

    • A person commits home invasion when he or she enters or remains unlawfully in a dwelling with the intent to commit a crime therein while a person other than a participant in the crime is already present in the dwelling, and while committing the offense:
      • Such person or another participant in the crime, acting alone or with one or more others, commits or threatens to commit a felony against the person of another person who is not a participant in the crime and is actually present in such dwelling.
      • Such an individual is in possession of explosives, a lethal weapon, or a dangerous weapon.
    • An act is considered "in the process of committing" the crime if it happens during an attempt or flight after the attempt or commission.
    • Home invasion is a class A crime, and those convicted under this provision faces a maximum sentence of ten years in prison, which cannot be suspended or shortened by the court.
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  • Smuggling drugs

    • There are four forms of felony drug offenses in California. Simple drug possession, drug transportation, drug possession with intent to sell, and drug production are all examples of these offenses. We'll be concentrating on drug possession with the intent to sell and drug transportation charges for the purposes of this page.
    • Section 11351 HS of the California Health and Safety Code prohibits drug possession with the intent to sell. Being found with illicit drugs on one's body with the intent to sell them to a third party is a crime. The number of drugs found on the person, whether the defendant used a weapon in the crime, and whether large amounts of money were seized from the accused are all factors that influence the severity of the penalty in these cases. When people have drugs for their own use, they are often prosecuted under Section 11351 HS.
    • Section 11352 HS of the California Health and Safety Code governs drug transportation. If a person is found selling, furnishing, prescribing, or transporting illegal drugs (in or out of the state), it is also a felony-level crime in California. These crimes are often the result of pre-planned "sting" operations, which often violate California's entrapment laws. Unfortunately, several people are convicted due to this legislation even though they were just a customer or had no involvement in the drug deal at all.

  • Robbery with a weapon

    • Robbery is described as the unlawful taking of a person's personal property using physical force or threats against the victim to obtain money or personal property. Armed Robbery charges can be brought against you if you use a lethal weapon. During an armed robbery, the victim must be injured or be threatened with harm at the moment of the confrontation. (Section 211-212 of the California Penal Code).
    • In California, the severity of the penalty for robbery is determined by whether the robbery is:
      • of the first or second degree
      • the circumstances surrounding the robbery.
    • Under California statute, robbery is still a crime. It is not a "wobbler" crime that can be reduced to a misdemeanor in the future.
    • A robbery conviction would almost always be considered a "strike" under California's three-strikes statute. Certain penalty enhancements, such as the use of a weapon, will significantly increase the sentence for robbery.

  • Bank Robbery

    • Since the law does not apply only to the money in a bank, you may be charged with bank robbery if you leave with anything that does not belong to you, such as one of the bank's chairs: Taking land, not just money, is illegal under the law against bank robbery. You may also be charged with bank robbery if you try to commit a heist, regardless of whether you succeed. An attempt to commit a bank robbery, like anything else in this rule, is viewed broadly: you may be charged with entering a bank with the intent to commit a robbery even though you don't actually do it.
    • The law goes even further in defining what a "bank" is. Depending on the conditions and the quality of the money taken, it may include banks, credit unions, and other savings and loan societies, and even armored cars, night depositories, and even ATMs.
    • You wouldn't face federal bank robbery charges if you robbed someone who had just withdrawn money from an ATM, for example, because the money taken no longer belongs to the bank. However, depending on who owns or controls the ATM machine, you could be charged with bank robbery if you compel or coerce a bank patron to use a card to withdraw cash from an ATM. Lifting money from an armored truck may also result in a bank robbery charge if the money you took was the "property" of a bank at the time. Since it's a federal offense, you can expect stiff penalties if you're charged with federal bank robbery.

Section 1192.7 of the California penal code contains a full list. (c) as well as 667.5. (b).

Furthermore, such felonies committed by minors over the age of 16 are considered hits. The felonies mentioned above are exactly the same. Section 707 of the California Welfare and Institutions Code contains a detailed summary of juvenile strikes (b).

If you have been charged with any felony, no matter how minor you believe it is, you should seek the advice of an experienced California Criminal Defense Attorney. Your California Criminal Defense Attorney's ability to alter the present and the past could be your only defense against the California three-strike rule.

An experienced Criminal Defense Lawyer might be able to effectively argue that the previous felonies were not "strikes" in the first place. Your lawyer will even be able to persuade the courts that the present allegations are unfounded.

Criminal offenses may have life-altering ramifications. If you or someone you know has been arrested or is being prosecuted for a felony, you need to speak with a professional California Criminal Defense Attorney right away. Protect your freedom and your rights.

What Constitutes a "Strike"?

Generally, three-strikes laws apply to serious and violent offenses. Rape, murder, arson, and theft are all examples of crimes that are called "strikes." Non-violent crimes like treason, drug trafficking, felony fraud, and bribery are among the "strikes" that differ by state.

How Many Strikes Would It Take to Get "You're Out"?

The number of strikes required to be declared "out" varies by state. Two strikes in some states will result in a life sentence without the possibility of parole. In certain cases, three or even four strikes are required to receive a lengthy repeat-offender sentence. (In addition to the maximum penalty levied after three strikes, some states impose increased punishments after only one strike on your record.)

What exactly is an "Out"?

There is no uniform concept of "out" among states. Longer sentences resulting from three-strikes laws can be as long as 10, 15, or 25 years in jail, or even life. In certain states, a life sentence with the possibility of parole after a certain number of years is possible, while in others, parole is not an option.


Many of the first three strikes legislation made the longer penalty (such as life in prison) mandatory, which meant that the judge had no choice but to enforce it. The laws prohibited judges from modifying a sentence depending on the circumstances of a specific case.

Many voices have criticized criminal sentences and advocated for reforms in the years after the first three-strikes laws were enacted. Many states passed amendments to the initial three strikes legislation after hearing stories of life sentences being levied for minor offenses like felony robbery.

The third strike did not have to be on the list of serious or violent offenses that counted as strikes under California's original statute. Rather, every felony arrest was considered the third penalty, even though the felony was elevated from a misdemeanor solely due to the offender's past criminal record. (Lockyer v. Andrade, 123 S.Ct. 1166 (2003).) The statute became controversial when the media highlighted people who were sentenced to life in prison for offenses that would usually only result in a few months in prison. California voters have approved amendments to the legislation many times since then.

Many states have abolished the imposition of the longer three-strikes-triggered sentences, giving judges greater leeway in determining the appropriate punishment for the offense and the individual offender. In addition, there are several common state reforms:

  • non-violent offenses are not counted as strikes
  • allowing parole to be granted sooner
  • Sentences of imprisonment without the possibility of parole are being phased out

The Three Strikes Law in California

California's Three Strikes Sentencing Law, enacted in 1994, mandates that a criminal convicted of a new offense after being convicted of at least one previous felony be sentenced to state prison for twice the time otherwise given for the crime. If the defendant has been convicted of a crime with two or more prior hits, the statute requires that he or she spend at least 25 years to life in state prison. Proposition 36, which significantly amended the above the law with two major provisions, was adopted by voters on November 6, 2012.

  • To qualify for the 25-year-to-life penalty as a third-strike offender, the latest offense must be a serious or violent felony with two or more previous strikes.
  • An amendment stating that designated defendants currently serving a third-strike sentence could petition the court to have their sentence reduced to a second-strike sentence if they would have been eligible under the new law.

What Are Prior Convictions Considered Strikes Under the Three Strikes Law?

  • Felonies that are serious or aggressive
  • Sustained petitions for minors
  • Convictions obtained outside of the jurisdiction
  • A single trial will result in multiple strikes

Felonies have Serious or Violent Consequences

Severe felonies are mentioned in Penal Code Section 1192.7(c), and violent felonies are listed in Penal Code Section 667.5(c). The list includes the most violent felonies and particular offenses like murder and mayhem, and rape. It also covers offenses of general criminal behavior, such as:

  • Felonies in which the defendant personally caused a victim serious bodily harm
  • Felonies that result in a California Gang Enhancement
  • Felonies involving the use of a weapon by the defendant

To put it another way, such crimes may be classified as strike offenses if they are committed in a particular manner (such as using a firearm). On the other hand, certain crimes, such as kidnapping, are serious offenses regardless of whether they are committed to violence. Convictions from before the three strikes law are still valid, but only if the current crime was committed after the law's enactment. To put it another way, the latest felonies must have occurred after March 7, 1994. Alternatively, existing felonies that meet the criteria of priors and are applied to the list of violent or serious felonies after that date, after the priors' addition dates.

Sentencing in Third-Time Offender Cases

If the third conviction is also a "strike offense," the statute's current version would result in a 25-year-to-life prison term. And if the defendant's third conviction is not a strike offense, he or she will face a harsher sentence. For the third offense, the defendant will receive a term that is twice as long as the standard sentence. As if he or she were a second striker, he or she would be handled as such. Exceptions to the New Three Strikes Law's Reform There are exceptions to the requirement that a third strike must be a serious or violent crime to obtain a 25-year-to-life sentence under the reformed version of the three-strikes statute. The following are the most significant exceptions:

  1. The third crime entails having cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, or some other similar drug in your possession for the purpose of selling, transporting, or producing. If this is the case, the defendant will face a maximum sentence of three strikes.
  2. The third conviction is a criminal sex offense or a felony that requires sex offender registration. In the vast majority of cases, the defendant will be sentenced to the full three strikes penalty. However, certain minor sex offenses, such as indecent exposure, have exceptions.
  3. If you used a firearm or a lethal weapon in your third conviction, you would receive the full three strikes penalty.
  4. If one of the defendant's previous strikes is on the list of serious offenses, the full punishment would be imposed. The following are some examples of past strike offenses that can contribute to this outcome:
    • Any act of sexual violence
    • Oral copulation, sodomy, or forcible sexual penetration of an infant under the age of 14 who is at least ten years younger than the defendant
    • Acts of lewdness with a child under the age of 14
    • Manslaughter or murder
    • solicitation for homicide
    • Assault on a police officer or firefighter with a machine gun
    • A serious or violent crime is punishable by a life sentence in prison or the death penalty

In Second Strike Cases

In both the old and new rules, if a person is convicted of a crime and has a previous strike, he or she must serve a sentence that is twice as long as the current conviction.

Calculating Custody Credit in Strike Sentences

For time spent in prison for good conduct, prisoners may receive "custody points." In most cases, a prisoner can only complete half of his or her sentence because of these credits. The right is, however, limited by the three-strikes statute. Before being eligible for parole, a second striker must serve at least 80% of her prison sentence. If convicted of a violent crime, the prisoner must serve 85 percent of his or her sentence in jail. Custody credits are not available to third strikers.

Consecutive Sentences and Other Extremely Punitive Sanctions

The three-strikes rule also applies to:

  1. Requires that sentences imposed on separate counts in the same proceeding be served consecutively, with combined term limits, as long as the counts were not committed on the same occasion and did not emerge from the same collection of evidence.
  2. Strikers are not eligible for probation.
  3. Demands that strikers complete their sentences in jail rather than in a rehabilitation center.

The Prosecutor Must Prove the Allegations of Strike

The jury will determine if the defendant has one or more previous strikes after the defendant has been convicted of the current felony charge. In other words, only because the law says so, the jury cannot believe the defendant has previous hits. The prosecutor must establish the existence of the strikes. If the jury finds the allegations to be valid, the three-strikes rule will be applied. In most cases, the prosecutor can rely on court documents, jail records, fingerprint records, and booking images to show that the defendant received the previous strikes.

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Is it possible for the court to dismiss or excuse prior strikes?

Under the strict three-strikes rule, there is some leeway. The prosecutor and the judge will each ask for the strikes to be dismissed. By filing a Romero Motion, the defense will ask the court to excuse or dismiss a strike.

When Can Prosecutors Get Strikes Dismissed?

Prosecutors may file motions to dismiss strikes before the case goes to trial. A prosecutor can do so if the following conditions are met:

  • He/she claims that pleading and proving all of the strike charges would be too difficult.
  • Based on the fact of the defendant's previous crimes and the current crime, he does not think the defendant ought to be considered a striker.

Romero Motions

California Criminal Defense Attorney can file Romero motions. The motion asks the court to cancel the attacks. This can be done at any time up to the end of the sentence. The judge will consider the following factors in determining the Romero motion:

  • The essence of the current crime
  • When did the last strike occur?
  • Priors to the strike, the most relevant evidence
  • All in the defendant's background is being investigated.

Is it Possible to Appeal a Three-Strike Sentence?

Yes, you would be able to take your case to a higher court. Such appeals are often successful. Your Criminal Defense Lawyer may be able to argue that the sentence is so out of proportion to the offense that it constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. Inmates serving time on a third strike will now ask the court to get their sentences shortened if their third strike was not a serious or violent crime, thanks to Proposition 36's changes to the three-strikes rule. If you or a loved one finds themselves in this situation, it is important that you contact an experienced and competent California Criminal Defense Attorney as soon as possible.

Is it worth to take on a Strike Case?

The first thing to keep in mind is to combat your current charge effectively. You can escape this feared law altogether if your defense counsel can get the charge dropped, reduced to a misdemeanor, or win an acquittal. Any conviction of a serious or violent crime must be vigorously defended. It will result in a conviction, which will be considered a strike in the future.

Prior Offenses That Are Eligible For A Strike

Murder, attempted murder, voluntary manslaughter, mayhem, rape, theft, arson, burglary, abduction, criminal assaults, multiple domestic violence-related offenses, and even some felonies that can be classified as misdemeanors have all been convicted in California.

Convictions for felonies committed in other states that would be considered violent or extreme felonies in California would be counted as strikes as well. Even if the previous crime was expunged by the rules of the defendant's home state, these charges would also count as strikes in California.

When the juvenile was at least 16 years old at the time the crime was committed, such offenses are exempt from juvenile adjudications.

Consider this scenario: an individual with two previous felony convictions was accused of stealing three golf clubs from a Los Angeles area golf course. The Supreme Court of the United States ruled that a sentence of 25 years to life in prison was an adequate sentence third crime was comparatively minor.

When Prior Strike Offenses are Dismissed

While California's Three Strikes Law is especially strict on repeat offenders, anyone facing a third felony offense should seek the advice of an experienced California Criminal Defense Attorney as soon as possible. With the assistance of an experienced California Criminal Defense Attorney, these prior convictions can be overturned in the interest of justice. A petition known as a "Romero Motion" can be filed to get the previous strike offenses dismissed, and a hearing will be scheduled to argue the motion in court.

The following are some of the considerations that the court considers when deciding whether or not to dismiss previous strike offenses:

  1. The new offense's lack of seriousness. Given the minor nature of the current crime, a court might be justified in striking a previous conviction when a defendant is charged with a current offense that is not violent or life-threatening. Even if the defendant has a long criminal history, the minor nature of the current crime can justify dismissing a strike prior.
  2. If the previous convictions are not dropped, the judge may impose a lengthy sentence. Since the underlying intention of striking a prior conviction is to prevent unjust sentences, the defendant's sentence is often an important factor when deciding to strike a prior conviction.

Other considerations the court examines include whether the defendant's previous convictions stemmed from a single period of irregular conduct, whether the defendant was suffering from drug issues at the time the crimes were committed, and whether the defendant's criminal background is free of physical abuse.

If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime, you can speak with a California Criminal Defense Attorney as soon as possible.

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