California’s Three Strikes Law is one of the harshest sentencing laws in the country. Most people don’t realize the full extent of the law’s consequences, including the potential to send you to prison for life for a relatively minor, non-violent felony offense.

During my time as a successful prosecutor, I frequently saw the repercussions of the Three Strikes Law. Now, as a criminal defense attorney, I work diligently to protect clients from the devastating consequence of the inflexible and often irrational Three Strikes Law. Below is what you need to know about the law, based on my work with thousands of clients in San Diego and beyond. If you have any questions, I invite you to get in touch for a free case evaluation.

Three Strikes Law Facts

The California state prison system currently houses well over 30,000 inmates with a second strike and over 8,500 with a third strike. Many misconceptions about the California Three Strikes Law lead people to believe it’s really confined to the most serious criminal offenders. However, for a criminal conviction to constitute a third strike, it need not be a straight felony or a violent offense; even a “wobbler” (a violation that can be charged as a felony or misdemeanor) may constitute a strike if you’re convicted of a felony. Further, many nonviolent and relatively minor criminal offenses may constitute the basis for a final strike, including an offense like receiving stolen property.

Here are some of the real facts about the Three Strikes Law that run counter to most people’s assumptions:

  • Any felony may constitute a third and final strike, including felonies that are neither serious nor violent.
  • This harsh sentencing scheme has not been shown to decrease crime and may actually increase crime because it leaves no opportunity for changing one’s life.
  • The Three Strikes Law does not operate equitably because it disproportionately affects low-income minorities.
  • Even one strike could have seriously adverse consequences.
  • Rather than reduce the cost of law enforcement by discouraging crime, the law drives up taxpayer costs by ensuring that those convicted of minor offenses remain locked up for long prison terms.

Consequences of Conviction

The “Three Strikes” Law is a bit of a misnomer because not just those who receive a third strike are affected. Anyone who has a prior strike and is convicted of a felony, whether or not it’s serious or violent, may receive a sentence that is double the county jail or state prison term for the offense. Even a juvenile offense may constitute a strike in some situations.

If you’re convicted of a second strike, you also must serve a minimum of 80 percent of your sentence to be eligible for early release. Other negative consequences that accompany strike offenses include ineligibility for probation and the requirement of a state prison sentence as opposed to being held in a facility designed to promote rehabilitation.

The Three Strikes Law becomes particularly oppressive for anyone who suffers a third strike. If you suffer a third felony conviction with two strike priors, even if it’s a nonviolent and non-serious “wobbler” offense, you must be sentenced to prison for a minimum of 25 years to life. The judge has no discretion.

It goes without saying that when you face a strike offense, a conviction can have a catastrophic impact on your future and your family. However, the prosecutor must prove each strike allegation in addition to proving the elements of the current charge beyond a reasonable doubt.

Defense Strategies

I utilize extensive forensic investigation, diligent legal research, carefully crafted motions and persuasive advocacy to defend you against pending felony charge and to expose weaknesses in the prosecutor’s case with regard to proving the prior strikes. I’ve helped many people facing a strike in San Diego, Imperial and surrounding counties avoid the harsh consequences associated with a strike conviction.

As harsh as California’s three-strike sentencing scheme is, if you’re accused of a felony in San Diego, the prosecutor and judge are not absolutely required to seek the penalty enhancement associated with a strike. The prosecutor or judge has the discretion to dismiss a strike allegation in the “furtherance of justice.”

I can also file a “Romero Motion,” which asks the judge to dismiss the strike in the furtherance of justice. I may rely on such factors as the remoteness in time of the prior strikes, the factual circumstances of the prior strikes, the specifics of the current criminal felony charge and your criminal history.

I may also be able to challenge your punishment as a violation of the Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment based on the specific circumstances of your case.

I’ve successfully assisted many people charged with felonies and wobblers in San Diego get their charges dismissed or reduced to a misdemeanor to avoid a strike, or be acquitted. Unlike a public defender buried in case files, I have the time and resources to effectively represent you in any case involving a strike.

If you have any questions after reading this, contact me for a free case evaluation. Whether you decide to retain me or not, I’ll make sure you understand your charges and the best legal options available to you.