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California's Three Strikes Law

Over the past forty years, the United States has incarcerated millions of people, a practice that has given the U.S. the highest incarceration rate in the world. As of December 31, 2013, there were roughly 1,154,700 people incarcerated in U.S. prisons, an increase in over 4,000 prisoners from 2012, the U.S. Department of Justice reported.

On December 31, 2013, there was a total of 135,981 prisoners (male and female) in California, which means California had the second highest number of prisoners in the nation, second only to Texas, which had 168,280 prisoners. Coming in third was Florida, with 103,028 prisoners.

In contrast, Oregon had a total of 15,362 prisoners, and Nevada had 13,056 prisoners on December 31, 2013. Meanwhile, New York had 53,550 prisoners and Illinois had 48,653 prisoners respectively on the same date, the DOJ reports.

Could California’s Three Strikes law be part of the reason why the state has so many prisoners? Read on as we delve deeper into this issue.

Three Strikes and You’re Out

In 1994, California enacted the state’s Three Strikes sentencing law. Under this law, if a defendant was convicted of a serious felony and they were convicted of a new felony, including a non-violent felony, such as felony DUI, they’d be sentenced to prison for double the length of time than what was normally imposed for the crime.

Further, if a defendant had two prior felony convictions and he or she was convicted of a third felony, under the law the defendant would be sentenced to at least 25 years to life. In other words, “Three strikes and you’re out!”

Voters Approve Prop 36 in 2012

Even though California has a large population, many criminal defense attorneys, inmates, citizens, and criminal justice experts argued that the inmate population was way out of control, in part because of the state’s Three Strikes law.

On November 6, 2012, California voters approved Proposition 36, which amended California’s Three Strikes law:

  • In order for a defendant to be sentenced to 25 years to life on a third felony, the new felony had to be either a violent or serious felony for it to qualify for the 25 to life sentence.
  • Certain defendants serving a third strike sentence had the right to petition the court to reduce their sentence to that of a second-strike sentence, providing they were eligible under the legislative changes.

Do you have questions about California’s third strike laws? If so, we encourage you to contact our Orange County criminal defense firm to schedule a free case evaluation with an experienced member of our legal team.