You are on page 1of 3

Three strikes law Three strikes laws are statutes enacted by state governments in the United States which

require the state courts to hand down a mandatory and extended period of incarceration to persons who have been convicted of a serious criminal offense on three or more separate occasions. These statutes became very popular in the 1990s. Twenty-four states have some form of habitual offender laws. The name comes from baseball, where a batter is permitted two strikes before striking out on the third. The Three Strikes law significantly increases the prison sentences of persons convicted of felonies who have been previously convicted of a violent crime or serious felony, and limits the ability of these offenders to receive a punishment other than a prison sentence. Violent and serious felonies are specifically listed in state laws. Violent offenses include murder, robbery of a residence in which a deadly or dangerous weapon is used, rape and other sex offenses; serious offenses include the same offenses defined as violent offenses, but also include other crimes such as burglary of a residence and assault with intent to commit a robbery or murder. Effects in California Violent crime, but especially homicide, has fallen precipitously in the Los Angeles area, as well as other areas of the southland Los Angeles's 2010 homicide count was 297, less than a third of the 1992 high of 1,000 slayings. However, there is some evidence that criminals on their last strike are more desperate to escape from police and therefore more likely to attack police.This does not reveal whether or not the criminals in question were or were not more desperate and willing to kill prior to their last strike. Successful amendment On November 7, 2000, 60.8% of the state's voters supported an amendment to the statute (offered in Proposition 36) that scaled it back by providing for drug treatment instead of life in prison for most of those convicted of possessing drugs after the amendment went into effect. Controversial results Some unusual scenarios have arisen, particularly in California the state punishes shoplifting and similar crimes involving under $950 in property as felony petty theft if the person who committed the crime has three prior convictions for any form of theft, including robbery or burglary and have served time in jail or prison for that offense. As a result, some defendants have been given sentences of 25 years to life in prison for such crimes as shoplifting golf clubs (Gary Ewing, previous strikes for burglary and robbery with a knife), or, along with a violent assault, a slice of pepperoni pizza from a group of children (Jerry Dewayne Williams, previous convictions for robbery and attempted robbery, sentence later reduced to six years). In Rummel v. Estelle (1980), the Supreme Court upheld life with possible parole for a third-strike fraud felony in Texas, which arose from a refusal to repay $120.75 paid for air

conditioning repair that was subsequently considered unsatisfactory. Rummel was released a few months later, after pleading guilty. In California, first and second strikes are counted by individual charges, rather than individual cases, so a defendant may have been charged and convicted of "first and second strikes", potentially many more than two such strikes, arising from a single case, even one that was disposed of prior to the passage of the law. Convictions from all 50 states and the federal courts at any point in the defendant's past, as well as juvenile offenses if the defendant was age 16 or older that would otherwise be sealed can be counted (although once a juvenile record is sealed, it cannot be "unsealed"; it does not exist any longer and there is no longer any record to be used as a prior conviction), regardless of the date of offense or conviction or whether the conviction was the result of a plea bargain. It is up to the prosecutor's discretion how many charges to levy against a defendant for a single criminal event. Defendants already convicted of two or more "strike" charges arising from one single case potentially years in the past, even if the defendant was a juvenile over 16 at the time, can be and have been charged and convicted with a third strike for any felony or any offense that could be charged as a felony (including "felony petty theft" or possession of a controlled substance prior to Proposition 36 (see below)) and given 25 years to life. (In the California Supreme Court decision People vs. Garcia, 1999, the Court withdrew residential burglary from the juvenile strike list. For a juvenile residential burglary to count it must also be adjudicated in combination with another felony such as armed robbery, which is a strike. Out of the over 43,000 second and third strikers in California prisons today, none has received a prior strike for residential burglary as a juvenile.) It is possible for a defendant to be charged and convicted with multiple "third strikes" (technically third and fourth strikes) in a single case. It is also possible for multiple "third" strikes to arise from a single criminal act (or omission). As a result, a defendant may then be given two separate sentences that run consecutively, which can make for a sentence of 50 (or 75, or 100) years to life. 50 years to life was the actual sentence given to Leandro Andrade (more information below). In turn, as a result of all these factors, three strikes sentences have prompted harsh criticism not only within the United States but from outside the country as well.Within California, criticism has come from organizations such as Families to Amend California's Three Strikes (FACTS).On a practical level, the Stanford Law School Three Strikes Project is working to reverse life sentences imposed for nonviolent, minor felonies. Enforcement of the provision differs from county to county in California. For instance, current Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley does not pursue third strike convictions against offenders whose felony is non-violent or non-serious in nature. Cases


On November 4, 1995, Leandro Andrade stole five videotapes from a K-Mart store in Ontario, California. Two weeks later, he stole four videotapes from a different K-Mart store in Montclair, California. Andrade had been in and out of state and federal prisons since 1982, and at the time of these two crimes in 1995, had been convicted of petty theft, residential burglary, transportation of marijuana, and escaping from prison. As a result of these prior convictions, the

prosecution charged Andrade with two counts of petty theft with a prior conviction, which under California law can either be a felony or a misdemeanor. Under California's three strikes law, any felony can serve as the third "strike" and thereby expose the defendant to a mandatory sentence of 25 years to life in prison.


Kevin Weber was sentenced to 25 years to life for the crime of burglary (previous strikes of burglary and assault with a deadly weapon).Prosecutors said the six-time parole violator broke into the restaurant to rob the safe after a busy Mother's Day holiday, but triggered the alarm system before he could do it. When Weber was arrested, his pockets were full of cookies he had taken from the restaurant. Gregory Taylor was serving a 25 years to life sentence for trying to break into a soup kitchen in 1997 when he was ordered to be released by Judge Peter Espinoza of California Superior Court in 2010. Santos Reyes in California committed a burglary as a juvenile with no jury trial (strike one); the second strike was a robbery which didn't involve injury to anybody; after ten years had passed without incident, Reyes was convicted of cheating on a driver's test and, as a result of the three strikes law, he was sentenced to 26 years to life.