Three Strikes Law in California
California law allows for the "striking out" of criminal defendants in
appropriate cases where the accused has a record of serious or violent
felonies. This law has been commonly referred to as the "3 strikes law"
and has created significant controversy in legal circles. Fortunately, the law
allows for an "escape valve" for certain criminal offenders to avoid the very
heavy sentences contemplated by the three strikes law.
In the seminal case of People v. Romero, (1996) 13 Cal 4th 497, the
California Supreme Court considered whether the “Three Strikes” law
stripped trial courts of the power to strike serious or violent felony
convictions. The Supreme Court found the law did not bar a trial court
judge from striking a prior felony conviction even if the prosecutor
objects. The court ruled unequivocally that California trial courts retain
their Penal Code §1385 power to dismiss "Strike Priors" in certain cases.
The District Attorney always maintains the power to dismiss the case as
Under California's three strikes law if a person has two or more convictions
for any serious or violent felony and subsequently gets arrested for any new
felony, he or she is now facing life in prison, regardless of whether the
new felony case is a serious or violent felony. If the defendant has only
one prior conviction for a serious or violent felony and subsequently picks
up a new felony of any kind, he is now facing a doubling of his sentence if
he is convicted on the new case.
When the Court strikes a prior it prevents that conviction from being used
to enhance or increase a person's sentence. For example, if a defendant
was looking at 6 years in state prison due to a prior strike if the Court
dismissed or "struck" the strike then the defendant would only be looking at
3 years on the case. Another example would be if an individual was facing
25 years to life due to 2 or more strikes on his record, if the Court granted
a request to "strike" one or more of the priors then the person would no
longer be looking at a 25 year to life sentence.
There have been many recent decisions in which Judges have taken the
step of dismissing prior felonies in order to spare what some believe is an
unduly harsh , perhaps even draconian sentence. For example, in 1997 in
the case of People v. Bishop the California Supreme Court found there
was no abuse of discretion in dismissing two of the defendants three
"Strike" priors even though the defendant committed the current offense
three days after being released from prison and he had eight or nine prior
felony convictions for which he spent terms in prison. The Court of
Appeals found that the interest of justice justified the dismissal because: 1)
the defendant's "Strike" priors were all between 17 and 20 years old; 2)
the defendant's age (50); 3) the defendant was charged in the current
offense with a relatively minor crime (theft of six video cassettes); and 4)
the substantial current sentence of 12 years in prison.
Also instructive, is People v. Superior Court (Alvarez) (1997) 14 Cal 4th
where the California Supreme Court decided trial judges had the power to
reduce wobblers to misdemeanors, even where so-called "Strike Priors" are
alleged that would normally make an offense a second or third strike case.
The Alvarez court discussed the factors appropriate for a trial court to
consider in deciding whether to reduce a wobbler. The court stressed that
in addition to considering public safety, trial courts should weigh the
individual characteristics of the defendant against the crime committed.
Relying on other cases, the Appellate Court explained the relevant factors
for reducing a felony to a misdemeanor include "the nature and
circumstances of the offense, the defendant’s appreciation of an attitude
towards the offense, or his traits of character as evidenced by his behavior
and demeanor at the trial." Moreover, the Court rejected the position that a
defendant's extensive record should always outweigh all other
considerations. The Court found that the defendant did have a substantial
criminal history, however his priors were relatively old and had not
involved violence, and he had cooperated with police. The trial Court
expressly held that these factors justified reduction of the wobbler to a
misdemeanor in order to avoid the defendant having to go through the
Felony Process or suffer a conviction for a "Strike Prior".
If you or a loved one have a 3 Strikes case pending in Long Beach or any
other Los Angeles Court call us for a free, honest assessment of the case.
Many criminal cases have legitimate defenses that can be presented in a
Court of Law.
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strikes law and how to beat a three strikes case in Long Beach or any other
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