What is a strike?
California Three Strikes Law
California’s Three Strikes Law, passed in 1994, is one the harshest sentencing schemes in the country. The sentencing initiative adds significant time to the prison sentences, including life terms, of repeat offenders convicted of certain felonies.
From 1994 to 2012, a life sentence could be imposed on any offender with two or more prior serious or violent convictions who was convicted of a new felony. This changed with the passage of Proposition 36, which changed sentencing for offenders with multiple strikes. If a defendant is eligible for Prop 36 sentencing, they may be sentenced as though they had just one strike if the current offense is not serious or violent in nature. Whether a defendant is eligible for Prop 36 sentencing depends on a multitude of factors and exceptions.
Although known as the Three Strikes law, two separate sentencing schemes are created in this law. The first, accurately called Three Strikes, creates a life term for a defendant who has two or more prior strikes and whose new offense is “serious” or “violent.”
The second scheme deals with a defendant who has been convicted of a single prior strike, and regardless of whether the new offense is serious or violent, this single-strike prior doubles his or her sentence. This second scheme is often referred to as a “second strike” sentence. Under the 2012 revision, this second scheme also applies to most offenders who have two or more strike convictions but whose current offense is neither violent nor serious. Other limitations, such as mandatory prison sentences and limitations on credits, apply to both schemes.
What does it matter?
The three strikes law is designed to ensure longer prison sentences and greater punishment to those who commit a felony and have been previously convicted of one or more serious and/or violent felonies. The law not only targets “third” strikers but also “second” strikers as well.
If a person is convicted of any felony and has one “strike” prior, that person must be sentenced to double the prison term on the current conviction. If a person is convicted of his or third offense and that offense is also a “strike” offense, a 25-year-to-life prison sentence will automatically trigger. However, if the third offense is not a strike offense, meaning the person only have two strike priors, the defendant will still face an enhanced sentence. The offender is subject to being sentenced to twice the normal sentence for the third offense. Essentially, they will be treated like a second striker.
What crimes are considered a “strike” for purposes of the three strikes law?
Under the Three Strikes Law, a crime is a strike if it is either a “serious” or “violent” felony. Under California three strikes law, serious felonies are listed in Penal Code section 1192.7(c) (see article on “Serious Felonies”). Violent felonies are listed in Penal Code section 667.5(c) (see article on “Violent Felonies”).