California's "Three Strike" law is again current news because there is a movement in the California State Assembly to change California's "Three Strike" law. The current
effort to change "Three Strikes" is Assembly Bill 327.
This is not the first time there has been an effort to change "Three Strikes". Some of the complaints about "Three Strikes" are:
- Some Juvenile Crimes count as "Strikes".
- Defendant's can receive more than one "Strike" from a single case.
- The third "Strike" does not have to be a "Strike".
Some Juvenile Crimes Count As "Strikes"
Juveniles, those under 18 years of age are not entitled to a jury trial. Juvenile trials are court trials, meaning a judge decides whether or not a juvenile is guilty of a crime. In fact, the term "guilty" is not even used in Juvenile Court. Juvenile matters are either found true or not true.
Why does this matter? An adult has a right to a jury trial, meaning the government, through the District Attorney's Office, must convince 12 jurors beyond a reasonable doubt that the adult is guilty. A juvenile does not have this right; a judge decides whether or not the allegation is true. Simply stated, it is much easier to convince one person, the judge, than it is to convince 12 jurors.
Even though a juvenile does not have a right to a jury trial, a true finding by a judge can saddle a juvenile with a "Strike" for the rest of his life assuming the alleged crime is one listed in Welfare and Institution Code Section 707(b) and the juvenile was at least 16 years old when the crime was committed. Many believe that if a juvenile crime is going to count as an adult strike that the juvenile should have a right to a jruy trial.
Defendants Can Receive More Than One "Strike" From A Single Case
The easiest way I can think of to discuss this issue is to briefly discuss one of my recent cases. I am by no means condoning my client's actions; however, I do not believe he should have received two "Strikes" for one act.
My client was involved in a police chase. During the chase he crashed his car into the police officer's vehicle. He was charged and convicted of two crimes for this single act, assault on an officer, Penal Code Section 245(c), and assault with a deadly weapon, Penal Code Section 245(a). For this single act my client received two "Strikes". Other state's laws do not work this way. In most other states my client would have received one "Strike" for his one criminal act.
The Third "Strike" Does Not Have To Be A "Strike"
"Three Strikes" should really be called Two Strikes and any Felony and You're Out. The "Three Strikes"law is codified in California Penal Code Section 667(b)-(i). It doubles the penalty of individuals convicted of a felony who have a prior "Strike" and for those who have two prior "Strikes" who are convicted of a third felony the sentence is 25 years to life. That's right, the "Third Strike" does not have to be a "Strike". All that is required is a third felony conviction. This means someone who has two prior "Strikes" and years later is convicted of any felony could be sentenced to 25 years to life. The third "Strike" could be something as minor as a petty theft with a prior, Penal Code Section 666. Some of the more famous examples are a getting sentenced to 25 years to life for stealing a piece of pizza or golf clubs.
Assembly Bill 327 is not the first effort to change what many believe are problems with the "Three Strikes" law. The most recent effort was Proposition 66 in 2004. Some of the changes proposed by Proposition 66 were:
- Amend "Three Strikes" law to require increased sentences only when current conviction is for specified violent and/or serious felony.
- Redefine violent and serious felonies. Only prior convictions for specified violent and/or serious felonies, brought and tried separately, would qualify for second and third "strike" sentence increases.
- Allows conditional re-sentencing of persons with sentences increased under "Three Strikes" law if previous sentencing offenses, resulting in the currently charged felony/felonies, would no longer qualify as violent and/or serious felonies.
- Increases punishment for specified sex crimes against children.
Proposition 66 did not pass.
Assembly Bill 327
This bill would provide that a defendant who has 2 or more prior violent or serious felony convictions shall receive the enhanced indeterminate life sentence only if the defendant's current conviction is for a serious or violent felony, as defined.
Some question what the true motivation of Assembly Bill 327 is. Is it really to fix perceived injustices or is the goal to save the state money by reducing the number of career criminals that get sent to prison.
According to an Assembly analysis, the bill would mean savings "likely in the tens of millions of dollars". By reducing the lifer population, the analysis says, the savings could reach $50 million in twenty years.
Whether or not you agree with the current law or not I do believe it should be renamed; it is misleading. It is not "Three Strikes." All that is required for a potential life sentence is two "Strikes" and any subsequent felony for a potential life sentence to be imposed. Twenty-six states currently have some form of a "Three Strike" law. However, none are as harsh as California.