Just over half of U.S. states have a so-called Three Strikes Law, including California. These sentencing regulations double the mandated prison term for any second felony offense after a serious or violent felony. A third felony conviction results in a mandatory 25-year to life sentence.

If you are a previous felony offender facing charges for a subsequent offense in California, it is important for you to understand how the Three Strikes Law may affect your case.

What crimes constitute a serious or violent felony?

Felony convictions carry a state prison sentence as opposed to jail time. Serious or violent felonies in California include the following:

  • Arson
  • Crimes committed with an explosive device
  • Infliction of severe bodily harm to another individual
  • Crimes involving a weapon
  • Murder
  • Kidnapping
  • Robbery and residential burglary
  • Attempts to commit any of these crimes

How do previous strikes affect a new felony conviction?

Even a nonviolent felony counts as a second or third strike after an initial violent and/or serious felony. In addition to the sentencing guidelines described above, an offender serving a second-strike sentence must serve at least 80% of the sentence, compared to 50% or more for an offender without previous strikes who has worked in prison and displayed good behavior.

With a third strike, an offender is ineligible for any sentence reduction of this kind. He or she must serve the minimum sentence before becoming eligible for parole.

Does the court ever dismiss a strike?

The judge has ultimate discretion over penalties associated with the Three Strikes Law. For minor second or third offenses, the court may dismiss prior convictions if the individual does not have a violent history. Most people who receive a second or third strike in California have committed drug-related offenses. In addition, the law disproportionately affects African-American individuals, those with mental illness and those who have committed nonviolent crimes.

For this reason, it is important to explore your options if you face sentencing for a second or third strike. The facts of your case and your history play a significant role in the sentence you receive.