top of page
  • Writer's pictureBlair Goss

What Is the 3 Strike Law in California? Goss Law Can Help Repeat Offenders Facing a Third Strike

"Three strikes and they are out!" This is what the California three strikes law is all about. Among those who advocate for a punishment that fits the crime, this law is considered very controversial and a cruel and unusual punishment.

However, according to legislators in the state, California's three strikes law is a necessary measure to reduce the high violent crime rate. They also point out that it does not apply to those convicted of nonviolent crimes, so only persons convicted of serious or violent felonies need to worry.

If convicted under the three strikes law, repeat offenders face serious consequences because this law can easily increase the punishment for a serious or violent felony from a handful of years behind bars to a life sentence. It affects the sentence imposed on both second or third strikers, so having even a single felony conviction in California could put convicts at risk.

As such, anyone charged with serious or violent felonies in Sacramento, California, needs to seek professional legal assistance as soon as possible. Goss Law has a panel of dedicated Sacramento criminal attorneys with an in-depth understanding of the California three strikes law. Those facing violent felony convictions can contact the law firm at 1 916-999-7689 to schedule a free consultation.

What Is the 3 Strike Law in California? - History and Criminal Justice Reform

What Is the 3 Strike Law in California? - History and Criminal Justice Reform

The California three strikes law was introduced approximately three decades ago, in the 1990s, a time when the state was battling against an increase in the rate of serious or violent felony convictions. In the interest of increasing public safety, the law was enacted by a voter initiative, and the three strikes law was created. Goss Law can explain what happens to first time felony offenders in California.

In its original format, California's three strikes law could be used against a third striker convicted of any felony. This flaw in the system meant that people were facing serious jail time for a non-violent felony conviction simply because of prior convictions for serious felonies.

However, by 2012, Proposition 36 was passed by California's voters, and the three strikes law was altered so that it would only apply to third strikers with prior felony convictions who have been convicted of a third serious or violent felony.

Part of the reason why Proposition 36 was necessary was that voters realized that in its original format, the three strikes law:

  • Impacted minority and disabled defendants a lot more

  • Eliminates the hope of rehabilitation in offenders convicted of a third strike

  • Increases the prison population significantly, at a huge cost to the state

To this day, there is still a lot of debate over California's three-strikes law. However, until further changes in legislation can be made, felony convictions for three strikes will continue to carry the possibility of a life sentence for offenders.

What Constitutes a Serious or Violent Felony?

Under California law, a strike is regarded as any of the serious or violent offenses that carry a mandatory sentence proportional to their magnitude. The following are examples of crimes that can result in violent felony convictions:

  • Murder

  • Extortion

  • Voluntary manslaughter

  • Carjacking

  • Rape

  • Kidnapping

  • Arson

  • Aggravated assault

Serious felony offenses include the following:

  • Burglary

  • Sale of certain drugs to a minor

  • Robbery

  • Weapons crimes

  • Grand theft with a firearm

In California, if the defendant's history includes prior conviction and a prison sentence for any of the listed violent or serious offenses, they are at a huge risk of being handed double the sentence if it is a second strike or life imprisonment for a third offense.

Even crimes committed by juveniles at least 16 years old can be considered a strike under California law. Multiple felonies can also result in multiple strikes if the defendant is convicted in a single court case. Serious felonies committed out of state but fit the parameters of the in-state strike will count as a strike against the convicted offender.

Three Stages of the Three Strikes Law

How does a serious or violent crime go from being an ordinary felony conviction to a third strike? Usually, unless the offender is facing multiple felony charges in the same court case, going from strike one to strike three is caused by repeated offenses.

With each repeated offense, the strike sentences become more severe until the final strike, which carries the possibility of a life sentence. The following is a brief look at the different implications of each stage of the three strikes law:

Strike One

Due to the use of sentence enhancements under California law, even a first strike can result in serious prison sentences under certain conditions. An example is when a dangerous weapon, such as a firearm, is used by the perpetrator while committing the crime. Such offenses are not taken lightly and will be regarded as the offender's first strike.

Strike Two

If the first offense was regarded as a serious or violent felony, it will affect the sentencing scheme for the second strike, which usually results in double the prison sentence. In such a situation, the following sentencing provisions apply:

  • The defendant will not be eligible for probation for the current felony conviction, nor will sentencing be suspended for the prior convictions

  • If the defendant is convicted of more than one felony not coming from the same group of operative facts and not committed on the same occasion, they will be sentenced consecutively on each felony count

  • Inmates sentenced for a second strike will receive twice the term usually handed for such a felony offense

It is important to remember that when passing down a sentence to a second striker, the judge will not consider the length of time between the first and second strike. Any calculations of good time credits will be limited to one-fifth of the jail sentence, and the offender will not be eligible for the California Rehabilitation Center.

Strike Three

It is when offenders are convicted of a third strike that things get extremely serious. Three strikes under California law mean the state will require the offenders to be given longer prison sentences that will be so severe that they deter other would-be offenders and also enhance public safety by keeping violent criminals behind bars.

When dealing with three strikes, of which the third strike is for a non-serious or violent felony conviction, the offender will receive a similar sentencing scheme to a second striker. This means the normal prison sentence for such a crime will be doubled. Other provisions related to rehabilitation and good time credits will also apply.

However, if the third strike is also for violent felonies, such as murder, rape, or kidnapping, the following sentence enhancements/provisions will apply:

  • All the sentence enhancements for prior strikes will be applied

  • The prison sentence will be served consecutively to any other sentence for which consecutive sentences apply

  • The offender will be sentenced to three times the normal jail time for such offenses, or receive life imprisonment (whichever is greatest of the two)

Due to the serious implications of the three strikes law, California voters decided that this law be governed by specific statutes, which must all be met for an offender to be punished severely for three strikes.

What Defendants With Two Prior Convictions Need to Know

What Defendants With Two Prior Convictions Need to Know

The California penal code can be quite intimidating and confusing, which is why anyone facing the possibility of being convicted of a third strike must contact an experienced attorney as soon as possible.

There are many things about the three strikes laws that most people do not understand, for example:

  • 23 violent and 42 serious offenses count as strikes under California law, which include convictions in other states for felonies considered as strikes in California

  • Offenders can get two or more strikes for the same crime in a single court case

  • In the interest of justice, a judge can decide to dismiss or excuse prior strikes, or a defense attorney can use the Romero motion to ask the court to remove a prior strike based on the following:

    • The time between the current felony conviction and any prior strike

    • Specifics of the current felony conviction

    • The criminal history of the defendant

  • Thanks to Proposition 36 passed by California voters in 2012, an offender can appeal a three strikes sentence with the help of a qualified lawyer

  • Third strikers convicted of nonviolent crimes may be eligible for parole as long as they have served their primary sentence

  • The one-strike law extends the sentence for serious sex offenses, such as continuous sexual abuse of a child, even if it is a first offense

  • With the right lawyer, many defenses can be used against a three-strike charge, such as arguing that one or both prior convictions were not a strike

Goss Law Can Assist Defendants Charged With a Third Serious or Violent Offense

Violent offenders face long prison sentences in California if convicted under the three strikes law. As such, when charged with serious or violent felonies, defendants need to call a good lawyer as soon as possible. They can help with other questions such as How long after an assault can you press charges in California?

Having an experienced attorney can be the difference between walking away free and being handed down life sentences because of prior offenses. Goss Law has been fighting for defendants in California for many years and is available for a free case evaluation in Sacramento, CA.


bottom of page