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A Comprehensive Overview of California’s “Three-Strikes” Law

by Lindsay Chambers

In 1994, California voters passed the nation’s harshest three-strikes sentencing law, which doubles the punishment for a second felony if the first one was violent, severe or cruel. Under the law, a convicted felon’s third strike carries a mandatory prison term of 25 years to life – usually without the opportunity for parole.

While other U.S. states have similar laws, California is the only state that counts any felony as a third strike, not merely a serious or violent one. What impact has the three-strikes law had, and what are your options if you’re facing a charge that carries this penalty?

Pros and Cons of the Three-Strikes System

The three-strikes framework originally aimed to address the societal problems associated with habitual offenders, defined as any person who continues to commit crimes even after the legal system offered them two prior chances to stay on a law-abiding path. The law’s intention was to keep repeated felons incarcerated and prevent them from rejoining the community.

However, instead of having the desired effect of deterring lawbreakers from committing future violent infractions, California’s three-strikes law has had some unintended consequences. Today, more than half of the state’s inmates convicted of a third strike are serving lengthy sentences for nonaggressive crimes that don’t notably impact public safety, such as petty theft. The law also unequally affects people of color, physically disabled defendants and people struggling with untreated mental health challenges. 

In 2012, more than 70% of California voters voted to enact the Three-Strikes Reform Act, also known as Proposition 36, to address the three-strikes law’s strictest unintentional consequences. Prop. 36 eliminated life sentences for trivial, nonviolent crimes and created a system whereby inmates sentenced to life in prison for slight third-strike crimes can appeal for a lessened sentence in court. Within eight months after the reform took effect, Prop. 36 freed more than 1,000 prisoners from custody.  

An Experienced Attorney to Represent You

While California’s legal system may posit that three-time offenders don’t deserve another chance, Orange County criminal defense attorney Ronald G. Brower feels everyone is worthy of the opportunity to make a fresh start and turn their life around.

Throughout more than 45 years working in Southern California’s criminal justice system, Ronald Brower has fought for clients who want to avoid having a criminal conviction on their record. If you are facing charges and a potentially protracted sentence for committing a crime under California’s three-strikes law, you’ll want a veteran attorney standing beside you. With expertise in prosecuting a wide range of misdemeanors and felonies, the Law Office of Ronald Brower will create a comprehensive, tailored defense strategy to match you and your unique circumstances.

If you or someone you know needs help with any charge that carries the three-strikes penalty, please contact our office for a confidential consultation about your case. As a top-rated attorney serving Southern California, Ronald Brower has successfully defended some of the region’s most remarkable, highest-profile court cases.

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