“Three Strikes” has been the law in California for over a decade. The Three Strikes law is designed “to ensure longer prison sentences and greater punishment for those who commit a felony and have previously been convicted of serious and/or violent felony offenses.” The 1994 campaign to enact the Three Strikes Initiative was largely a result of the public uproar following the kidnap and murder of Polly Klaas. Polly Klaas was a twelve year-old girl kidnaped from her home at knife point by Richard Allen Davis. Davis strangled Polly to death and dumped her body at an abandoned lumber mill. Prior to kidnaping Polly Klaas, Davis had already served time in prison on three separate occasions; first for burglary, then for sexually assaulting a woman, and finally for kidnaping and robbing another woman. The facts behind Richard Allen Davis’ criminal record demonstrated a continuous campaign of violence and terror waged against women. By all accounts, Richard Allen Davis is an evil miscreant. At its heart, the Three Strikes law addresses society’s need to protect itself by removing incorrigibly evil men from its midst.
Unfortunately, the Three Strikes law is often misdirected at offenders who are far removed from Richard Allen Davis’ level of depravity. The number and variety of offenses that are considered “strikes” are too long to list here, but they are generally labeled “violent” or “serious” under California law. However, do not let the “violent” of “serious” labels lull you into a false sense of security. California law considers many seemingly minor crimes as “serious” offenses. For example, a person can pick up a strike for simply threatening another person, or even discharging a gun in a negligent manner.
Having a strike on your record can have very serious consequences if you suffer an additional felony conviction. With one strike on your record, a subsequent conviction for any felony will result in double the normal prison sentence. Not only that, but unlike most prisoners who receive a 50% reduction in their sentence for good conduct, a “one strike” offender is only eligible for a 20% sentence reduction for good conduct. With two strikes on your record, a subsequent conviction for any felony can result in a life sentence with the possibility of parole only after serving 25 years in prison.
The Three Strikes law seems fairly straightforward, but it is truly a complicated area of law that requires a great deal of knowledge in order to understand its applicability. There are many things a savvy defense attorney can do to help a defendant avoid sentencing under the Three Strikes law. Sometimes what is charged as a strike is in fact not a strike, and a zealous defense lawyer can challenge these erroneous strikes and get them thrown out. Also, if the defendant is willing to accept a plea bargain, oftentimes a good defense attorney can negotiate and get the prosecutor to drop one or more of the defendant’s prior strikes. Finally, if the prosecutor is unwilling to drop the strikes or the defendant is convicted following a trial, a defense lawyer can still convince the sentencing judge to exercise the judge’s legal discretion to disregard the strikes and grant the defendant a more humane sentence. Considering the dire consequences a defendant faces under California’s Three Strikes law, it is wise to consult a reputable defense attorney to discover what can be done to avoid being “struck out.”