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California Three Strikes Law: A Primer

Posted by Eric D. Anderson | Dec 29, 2020


California is a "three strikes" state. The Three Strikes Law is based on the idea a person who had committed three felonies in California was not fit for society and therefore should face additional penalties for any conviction.  In other words, like baseball, it was "three strikes and you're out." Politicians, prosecutors, and police officers loved the mantra. It was easy to say, instantly memorable and was simple enough that the public would accept it without asking a slew of questions. While the intentions may have been good (protect the public and punish the perpetual criminal), the law proved to have some unintended (or maybe not so unintended) consequences. 

In essence, the law when first enacted required that any defendant facing a felony charge, who had previously been convicted of one serious felony was now facing a new enhancement requiring the defendant be sentenced to state prison for double whatever the penalties of the new crime. So a felony with a three-year prison term now became a six-year term for the defendant. For a defendant previously convicted of a felony with two or more prior strikes, the law required a state prison term of at least twenty-five (25)  years to life. 

This created a massive backlog in the courts and California's prison systems. People were being sentenced to long prison sentences for offenses that were neither violent nor serious on the second or third strike. The number of non-violent or incidental violent offenses that led to people becoming prisoners for decades was astounding. And Costly.

In 1992, this changed somewhat when the California voters approved proposition 36. In addition to removing the mandatory twenty-five years to life sentence provisions, Prop.36 also allowed these changes:

A. The requirements for sentencing a defendant as a third strike offender were changed to 25 years to life by requiring the new felony to be a serious or violent felony with two or more prior strikes to qualify for the 25 years-to-life sentences as a third strike offender; and

B. The addition of a means by which designated defendants currently serving a third strike sentence may petition the court for reduction of their term to a second strike sentence if they would have been eligible for second strike sentencing under the new law.


In addition to intensely examining and challenging the evidence against you, the defense counsel must also consider possible motions to address the sentencing factors. These considerations include examining the nature and timing of past offenses in order to determine whether or not your conviction or sentence under the old law would still qualify as a conviction or sentence under the current law. If not, then your lawyer can petition the court for a reduced term if convicted.  Your attorney can also submit a Romero motion, also known as a motion to "Strike the Strike" in the interests of justice and have one or more prior strikes removed from consideration. 

Whether you are facing your first strike or your third strike, you can call us and we will go over the options with you.  

About the Author

Eric D. Anderson

Eric Anderson: Civil Trial lawyer, Criminal Defense Lawyer, Sin Lawyer

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