Three Strikes Laws in Different States
What are Three Strikes Laws?
Three strikes laws, also known as habitual offender laws, are state laws that provide for a much harsher punishment, generally a life sentence, the third time a person commits a felony. Three strikes laws vary greatly from state to state and their application can turn on factors such as:
- The length of time between felonies
- The seriousness of the felonies
- The order of the crimes committed
- How much discretion the trial judge has in sentencing under the law
Which States Have Three Strikes Laws?
Currently there are 28 states which have heavier sentences for repeat offenders. Massachusetts became the latest state to punish repeat offenders when it passed its own version of the law in 2012. The states which carry habitual offender laws are: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.
Which States Have the Most Severe Three Strikes Laws?
California is generally thought to have the most severe three strikes law in the nation. In California, the "third strike" applies regardless of the seriousness of the prior felonies. This means a person convicted of nonviolent felonies, such as drug possession, can receive a prison term of 25-years to life for a third felony. However, in 2000, California voters passed Proposition 36, which converted the punishment for repeat drug possession from 25 years to life in prison for drug treatment instead.
In addition, California's three strikes law applies to some felonies committed when the person was a juvenile. The law also does not take into account the length of time between felonies, so a third strike can apply even if the first two felonies were committed many years before.
Some states apply the "strike" to the second serious, violent felony. For example, in Georgia and Tennessee a felon convicted of a crime such as murder, armed robbery, kidnapping, or rape, must receive a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
Many other states require a life sentence without the possibility of parole for the third violent felony a person commits. Other states with more lenient three strikes laws, such as New Hampshire, have maximum prison term of 30 years for the third felony conviction.
Why Do States Use Three Strike Laws?
States implement three strike laws to insure that repeat offenders are constantly imprisoned to ensure the safety of the public. The logic is that while a criminal is in prison he or she can’t be out in public hurting anyone. Since three strike laws apply to defendants who commit multiple crimes in succession, these laws ensure that the criminals most likely to repeat their offenses will remain in prison.
What Disadvantages Are There To Three Strikes Laws?
The greatest criticism of three strikes laws is that the punishments are often extremely disproportional to the crime which the defendant was arrested for. A defendant who steals some videotapes, for example, could receive 25 years in prison under the three strikes law while that same defendant would only spend a few months for the same crime if the three strikes law wasn’t in place.
The difference between the punishments come from the fact that three strikes laws allows courts to examine a defendant’s previous record and then give a greater sentence for those previous crimes even if the defendant had already been punished for those previous crimes. Under the three strikes system, a person’s criminal history can come back to haunt the person over and over again each time the person is convicted of a felony.
The other major criticism of three strikes laws is that judges often apply the laws unequally. Racial disparities in prison sentences, which were seen as a problem prior to the implementation of three strikes laws, have widened even further under the three strikes system.
Why Am I Being Sentenced Under The Three Strikes Laws Even Though My Current Crime Is a Misdemeanor?
Wobbler laws, or crimes which can be either misdemeanors or felonies, are very important to three strikes laws. If a defendant has two previous felonies on record and then commits a crime which is considered a “wobbler”, the court has the discretion to charge the crime as a felony for the purpose of handing a greater sentence even if the crime would normally be a misdemeanor.
A defendant who commits a wobbler and then two felonies would not trigger the three strikes law. The defendant might get a few years for the second felony. If, however, a defendant commits two felonies first and then a wobbler, the defendant would be charged under the three strikes law and be given a sentence of 25 years to life in prison. The same crimes can carry heavier sentences depending upon the order in which the crimes were carried out.
Are Three Strikes Laws Constitutional?
California's Three Strikes law was challenged as an unconstitutional violation of the Eight Amendment, which protects a person from cruel and unusual punishment. The Supreme Court upheld the law, even when applied to minor felonies, such as stealing golf clubs. Furthermore, the Court's reasoning about the California law seems applicable to the three strikes laws of other states.
Do I Need a Criminal Law Attorney?
Three strikes laws carry very serious consequences for repeat felony offenders. If you are being charged under a three strikes law, speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney right away.
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Last Modified: 08-30-2012 03:03 PM PDT
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