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Do you know what the California 3 strikes law is? In this article we explain the implications of this criminal law and how our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers can help you.

If you have been charged under the three strikes law, contact us now. We will review your case and tell you honestly what are the best options available for you.


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Law of the 3 strikes in California in 2024

It is a sentencing methodology used by California justice to punish those who repeat a crime. The Three Strikes Law adds more years in prison to those convicted of certain new serious or violent crimes.

  • The statute was enacted under the name of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. Its approval came after the murders of two teenagers in California. 
  • The crimes of Kimber Reynolds (18 years old) and Polly Klaas (12 years old), committed by individuals with criminal records, led state legislators to pass this controversial law.
  • Subsequently, modifications were made to its text in 2000 and 2006, respectively. Such legislative reforms were made with the aim of adding new crimes to the list of repeat offenses.

What does three strikes mean?

It means having reoffended by committing a felony with two other previous convictions for misdemeanors. Although, previously, non-violent crimes were also included in this classification. 

The California Law of 3 Strikes refers to the term used in baseball to indicate when a player loses his turn by making three mistakes in a row and “being out”.

Basically, this law: 

  • Sought to reduce the growing crime in the state, trying to deter criminals with increased penalties if they reoffend. But the reality does not seem to support the motivations for the approval of this rule.
  • Its purpose was to require that those convicted of repeated felonies receive twice as penalties as those stipulated in the law. 
  • Those who were prosecuted by justice ended up in prison for life. Since the sentence had to be served in state prison with a prison term of not less than 25 years to life. 
california recidivism law three strikes law

Criticism of the Three Strikes Law 

The law is considered deficient because it:

  • Violates the constitutional right to be free from cruel and unusual penalties enshrined in the Eighth Amendment.
  • Unnecessarily aggravates overcrowding in California prisons.
  • Places a burden on taxpayers by having to bear the cost of custody of elderly offenders. Even when these people no longer represent a significant threat to society.
  • Prevents the rehabilitation and/or rescue of the offender for the benefit of his family and society.
  • Has not been shown that the law of three repeat offenses has had a significant effect on the decrease in crime.
  • Has a disproportionate impact against a minority of convicted persons.
  • Is considered by some critics as a “structure” generated by the US media. Their influence in the change of focus with respect to rehabilitation policies has been decisive.

Amendment to the Three Strikes Law 

By overwhelming demand from California voters, the reform law was approved in November 2012. “Proposition 36” passed under the Three Strikes Reform Act 2012.4, and states that:

  • “Repeat offenders” will not be sentenced to 25 years of mandatory prison to life for a third recidivism that is not a “serious” or “violent” conviction. 
  • Those convicted under the old Three Strikes Law, who are eligible for benefits under the new law, can request a sentence reduction. 

What is a strike in the United States?

A strike is considered to be each crime charged to a person accused of violent or felony crimes. 

  • The three strikes law is not unique to California. Washington state was the first to pass statewide recidivism laws in 1993. 
  • California did it a year later (1994). Later, other states passed similar laws to reduce the recidivism of violent crimes. 
  • Each state has its own legislation on this matter, so the crimes classified as felonies can change from one state to another. 
  • Some states have restricted or eliminated the scope of the three strikes law from their legislation.
  • But, in all states, recidivism is considered as an aggravating element of the third crime.  

What are the crimes classified as felonies or violent in the three strikes law?

Penal Code sections 667.5(c) and 1192.7(c) include the following records as serious felony crimes:  

  • Assault.
  • Kidnapping.
  • Extortion.
  • Murder .
  • Burglary with intent to rob.
  • Sexual crimes such as rape and sexual assault on minors.
  • Any other violent crime involving the use of a weapon with or without injured persons.
  • Crimes causing serious bodily injury.
  • Arson.
  • Crimes committed with explosive devices.
  • Any of these crimes committed in attempted degree.
3 strikes law crimes

Does California still have the 3 strikes law?

The state of California still applies the 3 strikes law with the modifications approved by the voters.

What happens to a second strike in criminal terms?

  • The convict sentenced for a second offense or strike is irretrievably sent to prison. Instead, a person with no criminal record could receive probation or be sent to a rehabilitation center. 
  • A second strike is paid with double the initial punishment indicated by the Penal Code for that crime. 
  • The person must serve at least 80% of the sentence before requesting full release. Unlike other prisoners without strikes who can receive procedural benefits earlier. For example, reducing the sentence from one third to one half.

The commutation of the sentence is requested when the inmate shows good conduct and does prison work. 

Is the three-strike penalty mandatory in all cases?

There are circumstances where the three strike rule does not necessarily apply. The judge could determine in his sentence that a defendant with two or three convictions (strikes) does not fall within this criminal category.

Either by request of the prosecutor or motu proprio, the judge can remove or clear one or more strikes from the defendant’s record. Of course, the court must very well substantiate the objective reasons for making such a determination.

The elimination or dismissal of a record considered a strike can be appealed by the prosecutor. It is also subject to further review by the Court of Appeals and the California Supreme Court.

How can our criminal defense attorneys help you?

If you have been accused or convicted and you fear that the law of the three strikes will be applied to you, we can help you. During a consultation with any of our criminal attorneys, we will be able to review your case.

We have defended other people in these circumstances before with very favorable results. If we decide to take up your defense, we will probably file an appeal of the conviction.

Normally in these cases we:

  • Asks the court to erase a previous strike through the so-called Romero motion. The court is asked to remove or set aside a prior strike conviction for sentencing purposes. The request is made based on:
    • The defendant’s criminal record;
    • The time the defendant committed the crime. 
  • Arguments that the earlier strike offenses were not actually “attacks.” In other words, they were not serious or violent crimes and do not deserve to be considered strikes. The prosecution will have to prove without a doubt that they were.
  • Prove client’s innocence in the third offense charged. Consequently, the Law of three strikes cannot be applied.

Has the 3 Strikes Law really been effective in reducing crime in California?

A preliminary assessment of the impact of the Three Strikes Act on society by the Legislative Analyst’s Office in 1995 indicated that:

  • The entry into force of this law produced a high accumulation of cases in the state judicial system. Most of the defendants refused to plead guilty to the crimes committed, so these cases went to trial.
  • Several counties had to increase budgets to support their justice system. 
  • Others who saw the number of inmates grow in cases not classified as three strikes were released from prison ahead of schedule.
  • Several courts had to divert resources from civil cases to make them available for criminal cases.
  • Many people were prosecuted and convicted of non-violent and non-serious crimes.
3 strikes with violent crimes in california

What do other more recent studies say?

A 2007 study by the Vera Institute of Justice in New York focused on the effectiveness of incapacitation or imprisonment considering each of the forms of sentence. 

  • Increasing incarceration rates in the United States would lower the crime rate by 2%. 
  • The difficulty with this measure is that its implementation would be very costly.

Likewise, another subsequent study determined that:

  • Three strikes laws effectively deter criminals from committing misdemeanors out of fear of a life sentence. 
  • However, it was not ruled out that this type of law would lead criminals with previous convictions to commit more serious crimes. 
  • Realizing they could face longer sentences with a new crime, criminals were tempted to commit a felony instead of a misdemeanor because they would spend the same amount of time in jail, the study authors said.

In 2015, a new study on the three strikes law made a startling finding. It found that these laws were directly related to a 33% increased risk of fatal assaults on police officers. 

What does the Second Chance Act say?

This Law signed by then President George Bush in 2008, part of a different approach to imprisonment. 

  • Its official name is “Second Chance Law: Community Safety through Recidivism Prevention”.
  • Provides convicts before and after reentry into society with counseling and training for a successful return. 
  • It seeks to cut recidivism in half over a five-year period. Its strategy is based on offering criminals support for their reinsertion through federal funds. 
  • Services include: housing, education, child welfare, mental health and substance abuse therapies, employment, and others.

Studies subsequent to the application of the Second Chance Law found that:

  • Services provided to offenders help keep people out of jail. 
  • Individuals improve their mental health, which results in a decrease in recidivism. 

If you have been convicted under California’s 3 Strikes Law, there are still defense possibilities for you. Request a professional consultation with us now and we will discuss your best defense options. We have over 50 years of combined experience successfully dealing with these matters.


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