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Understanding the three-strikes law

On Behalf of | May 1, 2024 | Criminal Defense

The three-strikes law is a strict but controversial sentencing guideline. The rule significantly increases prison sentences for persons convicted of a felony with previous convictions for two or more violent crimes or serious felonies.

While the intent is to reduce crime by locking up and deterring chronic offenders, many doubt the law’s effectiveness.

What does the three-strikes law entail?

The basic premise of the three-strikes law is to impose a life sentence on a third felony conviction. In some instances, any felony can trigger a strike. In others, only serious or violent felonies count as strikes against the defendant. The idea is that the harsh penalty acts as a strong deterrent against repeat offenders who might otherwise continue to commit felonies.

How does the three-strikes law work?

When a person with two previous strikes receives a new felony conviction, this law mandates that judges impose a harsher sentence. Often, this leads to a life sentence with the possibility of parole only after a significant number of years, typically 25, have been served. This automatic increase in sentencing removes discretion from judges, leading to life sentences for a wide range of felony offenses.

Impact of the three-strikes law

The impact of the three-strikes law is a heated topic. Supporters argue that it helps keep dangerous criminals off the streets, reducing the crime rate and repeat offenses. They cite it as a necessary tool for stopping the cycle of crime for which a small percentage of the population is responsible.

Critics argue that the law can be unjust, leading to disproportionately harsh penalties for less severe crimes. They point out cases where individuals receive life sentences for nonviolent felonies. The fairness and effectiveness of the three-strikes law remain highly questionable, with some arguing it leads to overcrowded prisons and excessive government spending on incarceration.

In response to these critiques, some states now ensure that only serious or violent felonies count as strikes. Others maintain their original laws. The debate continues as society seeks to balance punishing repeat offenders with maintaining fair, proportional sentencing.