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California Three Strikes Law

The California Three Strikes Law is a statute which mandates that people who are convicted of three separate felonies receive very harsh sentences on the third offense, up to life in prison. Enacted in 1994, just a year after a similar statute (the first of its kind) was approved in Washington, the Three Strikes Law was applied in the sentencing of over 40,000 people between 1994 and 2003. The California Department of Justice and Department of Corrections credit the law with reducing the total number of homicides, rapes, robberies, assaults, burglaries, and vehicle thefts from 8.8 million in the 10 years preceding the Three Strikes Law to 6.8 million in the 10 years following.

Several states have three strikes laws, but many require the “strikes” be of a violent nature in order to qualify under the statute. However, California is notable because its Three Strikes policy applies as long as the first two strikes are either “violent” or “serious.” Since the nature of the third crime is not taken into account, this has led to a large volume of inmates being sentenced to long prison terms under the Three Strikes Law, and has also drawn criticism for being too harsh. Several cases have gained notoriety – for example, Gary Ewing, sentenced to 25 years to life for shoplifting golf clubs, or Kevin Weber, sentenced to 26 years to life for stealing 4 chocolate chip cookies.

Critics of the law say that it qualifies as “cruel and unusual punishment.” However, in 2003, the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that the Three Strikes Law does not violate the Eighth Amendment. On a similar note, the practice of using prior convictions to determine the severity of a sentence was also ruled constitutional in Almendarez-Torres v. United States (1998). In 2004, an attempt to amend the Three Strikes statute to require a third strike to be either “violent” or “serious” failed, with 42.7% of the vote.

If you have been accused of a crime, make sure you are well represented and that your rights are respected. Contact one of the San Jose criminal defense attorneys from the Law Office of Daniel Jensen, P.C. at (408) 296-4100 for a consultation right away.

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