Criminal Defense: California’s Three Strikes Victory in Riverside County
California’s Three Strikes Rule
The Three Strikes Rule was enacted in California in 1994 to make violent offenders accountable for their crimes. (For more, see here.) The rationale was that certain violent crimes were deemed to be worse offenses than others, and part of the conviction would include a “strike”. It was designed “to ensure longer prison sentences and greater punishment for those who commit a felony and have been previously convicted of serious and/or violent felony offenses.” (For more, see here.) Just as in the game of baseball, three strikes and you’re out. Only, what the legislators failed to realize is that this is not a game, but people’s lives. 25% of prison inmates are “three strikers” who are there permanently because they received their third strike. (For more, see here.) What has been seen to be happening increasingly was that people convicted of violent offenses were being sent to jail for life over some petty crime, merely because they had two other strikes.
For example, in 2000, Gary Ewing stole three golf clubs from a pro shop at a country club in Los Angeles. Mr. Ewing had several misdemeanors on his record. Most of his charges were petty theft. Unfortunately, he picked up two strikes for burglaries between 1984 and 2000. He never actually harmed anyone, though he frightened a couple victims, and threatened one. But it remains fact that he never actually harmed anyone. But because of California’s Three Strikes rule, Mr. Ewing, who had two strike priors, and who now stole less than $1200 worth of golf clubs from a golf course, will spend the rest of his life in jail. Ewing v. California (2003) 538 U.S. 11.
Effect of California’s Three Strikes
The first strike does not have an effect on the current case. It does not send you to jail for longer, or make parts of your conviction worse. In theory, it is supposed to act as a warning. One judge in Riverside county told me once that one strike was not a big deal, and that my client merely had to stay out of trouble. Unfortunately, this judge was not living the life of my client, nor living in his neighborhood. The judge didn’t quite understand him. Needless to say, I fought hard for him and kept that strike off his record. Hopefully he does remain out of trouble, but if he finds himself back in jail, he won’t have a strike on his record to keep him down.
The second strike acts as a sentencing enhancement. It means that if you have a prior strike, then you will be sentenced to twice the term. In addition, a person who is sentenced with a prior strike under California’s Three Strikes rule is only eligible for 80% time for non-violent felonies and 85% time for violent felonies. For example, Mark is charged with Robbery. The facts are that he stole $40 worth of merchandise from a store. He is looking at 2, 3 or 5 years in prison. The DA alleges a prior conviction for methamphetamine possession. This was not a strike. However, along with the previous meth possession conviction there was an allegation that Mark was involved in a criminal street gang. That charge is an automatic strike. Because of this prior strike, Mark is now looking at a maximum of 10 years in prison.
The third strike in California means you’re out. If a person with two strikes is convicted of any felony, then they will be sentenced to twenty-five years to life. Again, this is for ANY felony. If you have two prior strikes, then it is especially important that you hire an aggressive criminal defense attorney to fight on your behalf. You need to avoid the felony conviction to avoid the wrath of California’s Three Strikes law!
How to Fight California’s Three Strikes Rule
It is never a good idea to just accept a strike in California. You should always fight a strike enhancement. Usually if the crime was not a violent one, or if you have any defenses, you can avoid a strike. This is where hiring an aggressive criminal defense attorney comes to play. If you have a prior strike already, do not accept that you have to deal with the enhancement. Again, an aggressive and good criminal defense attorney can petition the California court to “ignore” the prior strikes for the purpose of sentencing in your current case.
For example, I had recent success in filing a motion which led the court to ignore my client’s prior strike for a robbery conviction in his past. The client and I sat down for lengthy meetings in which he explained his situation to me. I was then able to argue to the court that the prior strike should not be used as an enhancement. If the court did not remove the strike, then my client was facing serious prison time. Without the strike, the court was willing to consider probation. I wrote the motion and the court agreed that the strike should not be used in consideration on the current case. Now my client is on probation and not stuck in prison. These results aren’t always obtained, but it’s definitely something to work towards in your own case. Do not just accept California’s Three Strikes rule, but find the right criminal defense attorney who will fight to keep it from effecting you!
Contact the Law Office of Stephanie M. Arrache, a criminal defense firm, if you have any questions about California’s Three Strikes Rule, or if you have been arrested but have strikes in your past.
Law Office of Stephanie M. Arrache
A Criminal Defense Firm
PO Box 3297
Palm Springs, CA 92262
Office: (760) 237-8295
Cell: (760) 668-8295