A person convicted of more than one crime may be considered a habitual offender. Other terms to refer to habitual offenders include: repeat offenders, subsequent offenders and three strikes offenders. For decades, there have been ongoing debates across the world regarding how to rehabilitate habitual offenders.

Because they continue to commit the same offense over and over after being punished or they simply continue to commit crimes generally, criminal justice researchers and legislators continue to look for new ways to decrease repeat offending. Depending on the state and type of crime that is being repeated, greater penalties can be expected for habitual offenders than first-time offenders.

Many habitual offenders who commit the same crime over and over again have substance abuse problems and/or mental health issues. A disproportionate number of habitual offenders are impoverished.

Common criminal behavior that involves habitual offenders include:

  • DUI;
  • Illegal drug possession;
  • Petty theft such as shoplifting;
  • Trespassing; and
  • Conducting business without a proper license or selling merchandise without proper license such as street vendors

What is a Habitual Offender Statute?

Many states have incorporated habitual offender laws that are intended to reduce the rate of repeated criminal activity. Depending on the state, the law may target the same exact crime, increasing the punishment or providing intense compliance with parole and probation requirements when the offender does the same activity again.

Other states simply target offenders who have committed any second crime regardless of whether they were the same kind of offense. Those statutes usually provide additional penalties once an offender reaches the statutory number of offenses for the extra penalties to kick in regardless of the crime convicted.

If a state has some form of habitual offender statute, they may also have either minimum sentence requirements for the subsequent offense or the availability of enhanced penalties which is left to the discretion of the judge.

What Penalties Do Habitual Offenders Face?

This depends on the state’s law and the type of crime committed. In most cases, an offender who has committed the same offense can expect some sort of jail sentence or supervised probation. If the crime committed is violent or related to drug trafficking, extraordinary jail sentences may be ordered that can require several years to complete.

Common penalties include:

  • Longer jail sentences;
  • Higher fines;
  • Intense rehabilitation for addiction problems;
  • Supervised probation;
  • DUI cases can cause multiple restrictions on your license or revocation of the license altogether;
  • Prohibition on owning or possessing firearms; and/or
  • The loss of other civil liberties such as voting rights and serving on a jury

What Other Factors Impact the Kind of Penalty Faced by Habitual Offenders?

Habitual offender laws and judges perspectives on dealing with an habitual offender, can impact the type of penalty you receive. In addition to whether the crime committed is subject to a habitual offender statute, these other factors can play a role in determining what kind of punishment the state prosecutor will request and what sentence the judge is inclined to order as a result:

  • Whether the offense is the same charge as the last conviction;
  • The time between the new offense and the last conviction;
  • Whether the offender was already on probation for another crime when the new offense occurred;
  • Whether the crimes are violent in nature or related to violence like drug trafficking;
  • Whether the offender has an active substance abuse problem;
  • Whether the offender suffers from a mental health issue; and/or
  • Whether the offender continues to perpetuate crimes against the same victim or place of business

What is the “Three Strikes Law”?

The “Three Strikes Law” is a law that can cause a habitual offender to face a life sentence or extraordinarily long sentences upon a third conviction of a felony or other serious crime within a state that has a three strikes law.

Not every state has the three strikes law, and many of these laws are under scrutiny. So even if your state has a history of the three strikes law, make sure to check that it has not been modified to the point where you no longer qualify.

Are there Mandatory Sentencing Guidelines for Habitual Offenders?

Depending on the state, there may be mandatory sentences for certain serious crimes if committed by a subsequent offender. Sometimes the lengthy sentence is at the discretion of the judge and in other cases it is mandated by the statute.

Another issue for a habitual offender involve mandatory minimum sentencing for serious crimes that they may be subject to. If convicted of a crime that carries a mandatory minimum jail sentence and the state imposes a habitual offender sentence there could be consecutive jail sentences putting the offender behind bars for most of their life.

Do I Need a Lawyer if I Am Facing Habitual Offender Charges?

Yes. Because many habitual offender statutes can carry longer jail sentences and heavier penalties, it is recommended that you hire a criminal defense lawyer. A lawyer can advise you of your rights, explain the maximum penalties that apply to your particular case, investigate any defenses you may have and represent you in court.

Failing to hire an attorney timely may prevent you from filing necessary motions that best represent your interests. Habitual offender laws can be complicated to understand and you want to make sure you know what crimes may subject you to heavier sentencing.