Three Strikes Law California Essays

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The term “three-strikes” stems from the reference used in the game of baseball. The three-strikes law essentially means that a criminal is authorized two criminal offenses before “striking out” on the third criminal offense. This confirms that a habitual offender who is convicted of three or more violent or serious charges, “strikes out” and will receive harsher punishments. This form of legislation shows a drastic shift from retribution to incapacitation or deterrence as a type of punishment. Punishment or the threat of punishment is a representation of a mechanism that deters individuals from further engaging in criminal activity.

Two violations of three-strike laws are a form of the habitual offender statute. A habitual offender statute is a law that (1) allows a person’s criminal past to be evaluated at sentencing or (2) allows for a person convicted of another specified offense to receive a serious punishment than that for the current offense alone (Schamelleger and Smykla, 2013). Indeed, an individual cannot face the penalties of the three strikes law unless they are a habitual offender. The five separate criteria that a habitual offender must meet and that the state must show is: (1) the habitual offender must be convicted of a felony twice before; (2) each conviction had to have taken place on separate occasions; (3) the present offense must be a violent felony; (4) the present offense was committed within five years of serving another sentence for a violent felony; (5) the offender has not been pardoned for a previous violent felony. Indeed, the consequence depends on the seriousness of the crime.

A felony is a serious offense that is punishable by a state prison sentence. A felony is also punishable by death or incarceration in a prison for more than one year. As a matter of fact, any new felony may be punished under the three-strikes law if the defendant has one or more “serious” or “violent” felony priors. Therefore, it is possible for a defendant who already has two felonies on record and later commits a crime to be charged as a felon.

There are many comparisons when it comes to the three-strikes models in Washington, California, and Florida. Similarly, all of the statutes either increase the period of incarceration for violent crime, expand the number of crimes that are included in the violent crime category, or both. Equally, all 25 states except for Kansas, had preexisting laws that focused on the repetition of violent offenders. Additionally, a large portion of states new legislations had reduced judicial discretion at the sentencing phase of the criminal justice process. It is clear that there are specific limitations on judges’ decisions when it comes to sentencing guidelines.

In contrast, the Washington law was enacted in December of 1993. Additionally, the penalties for a third-strike varies. In the Washington statute, all three strikes must be for felonies that are specifically listed in the legislation. Moreover, there is no second strike provision in the Washington statute. The Washington Three Strike law statute requires a life term in prison without the possibility of parole for a person convicted for the third time of any of the serious crimes listed in the legislation.

The California Three-Strikes sentencing law was established on March 7, 1994. Originally, the California law didn’t give judges discretion when it came to setting prison terms for three-strikes offenders. In 1996, the California Supreme Court ruled that judges could ignore prior convictions in determining whether an offender qualified for a three strikes sentence. A person convicted of any felony who has previously been convicted for a prior offense is to be sentenced twice the term he or she otherwise would receive.

The California law stresses that the first two convictions must be from the states list of “strikeable” crimes. “Strikeable” crimes include violent or serious acts of rape, aggravated assault, arson, murder, and kidnapping to name a few. The state of California’s three-strike laws punishes anyone who commits a third felony. The individual who commits a third felony crime automatically has to serve a mandatory sentence of 25 years to life, specifically if the first two felonies were extremely harmful. Additionally, in California, a “third-striker” has at least the possibility of being released after 25 years (Schmalleger and Smykla, 2013). California is still serious about punishing re-offenders.

On July 1, 1999, the state of Florida imposed tough new laws in an effort to inflict harsher penalties on habitual offenders requiring that “career criminals” serve mandatory minimum terms of imprisonment. Mandatory minimum sentencing refers to the imposition of sentences required by statute for those convicted of a particular crime or a particular crime with special circumstances, or for those with a particular type of criminal history (Schmalleger and Smykla, 2013). Furthermore, the “three-time violent offender” law is also referred to as the Florida Three Strikes Law. This law requires a judge to impose sentence terms varying from 5 years to life in a state prison depending on the severity of the crime. The Florida Three Strikes Law provides sentence ranges up to life when certain violent offenses are committed by repeat offenders. For a third conviction for a specified violent offense, a first-degree felony is equal to prison term of life, a second-degree felony is spent over 30-40 years, and a third-degree felony is equal to a prison term of 10-15 years.

The habitual offender statute that was in effect prior to the enactment of the three-strikes law mandated a sentence of life imprisonment with first parole eligibility after 20 years for persons who were convicted for a third time of a listed violent offense and who had served separate terms for the first two convictions. It also provided that on the fourth conviction, the offender was to be sentenced to life without parole.

Three-strikes laws are beneficial comes to the reduction in crime and arrest rates. This reduction eventually helped to deter criminals with the threat of increased incarceration. It has also been proven that three-strikes laws reduce felony arrest rates. People in favor of three-strikes laws believe that it is an example of effective crime control, a preventive measure for career felons, adds additional peace of mind for citizens, and provides harsher punishments for habitual offenders. On the other hand, those who are against the use of three strikes laws suppose that it adds an additional cost to courts and prisons, causes an over-population in prison cells, is an example of an unfair law, and is a result of the decline in the number of law enforcement officer recruits.

According to the nonpartisan Legislative Analysis Office, three-strikes laws are effective because they help to keep criminal offenders off of the streets for longer periods of time. In reference to the American Bar Association, California’s Secretary of State compared the decline in criminal rates in California to the overall national rate. This similarity proved that crime rates had a drastic decline nationwide.

Since its execution, the three-strikes law has had a major impact on the prison population. From year one, the courts have had over 80,000 second-strikers and 7,500 third-strikers to state prison. It has been proven that almost 43,000 prisoners were serving time under the three-strikes law. This amount of inmates made up over 26% of the total prison populations.

According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, 44% of all inmate were convicted of a violent offense, while 56% were convicted of non-serious or nonviolent offenses. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld three-strikes laws and has rejected the argument that they amount to cruel and unusual punishment. California’s broad three strike laws afforded judges and prosecutors the opportunity to use their limited discretionary authority in order to reduce the guilt of offenders who commit lesser third-strike felony offenses. This law was responsible for the decline in crime rates in the 28 states who have them.

An effect of three-strikes laws on society is that it has assisted in the removal of criminal offenders from various communities. Their removal has resulted in the members of society’s sense of safety in their neighborhoods and over their properties as they complete daily tasks. Three-strikes laws had a dramatic effect in California being that the cost of housing an inmate incarcerated is about $47,102 yearly. Criminal offenders who are on their last strike have a tendency to either attack or escape from police. This legislation also has had an impact on inmates who have been released for nonviolent crimes. Their criminal charges are now on their permanent record which could hinder them from obtaining a job after prison life.

The purpose of this law was to increase the punishment and ensue longer prison sentences for individuals convicted of a felony or have been convicted of one or more serious or violent crimes. While a criminal is in prison, the individual doesn’t have access to being out in the community harming others. The rationale of these laws is to keep criminals who are likely to re-offend incapacitated.

In conclusion, it is clear that for felony offenders the days of having the punishment fit the crime are now over. The three strikes law was originally established to prevent violent felons from committing additional acts of violence. The California Three Strikes law represented a huge shift from rehabilitation to incarceration. Washington states three-strikes laws have proven to be both effective and affordable, which is why many states should view Washington’s legislation as a role model. It is my opinion that a shoplifter shouldn’t spend the rest of their life in prison. However, I also believe that an individual who can’t refrain from committing repeated and violent acts of crime should be incarcerated. The challenge in courtrooms has now begun when it comes to the constitutionality of three-strikes laws.

Even before the recent ballot initiative, the clinic’s law students had overturned the life sentences of 26 people, based on newly discovered evidence or inadequate assistance of counsel, as when defense lawyers failed to present evidence of a client’s mental illness.

Asked about the relationship of mental illness and three-strikes prosecutions, Michael Romano, director of the Stanford project, responded, “In my experience, every person who has been sentenced to life in prison for a nonserious, nonviolent crime like petty theft suffers from some kind of mental illness or impairment — from organic brain disorders, to schizophrenia, to mental retardation, to severe P.T.S.D.,” or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Nearly all had been abused as children, he pointed out. All had been homeless for extended periods, and many were illiterate. None had graduated from high school.

In other words, these were discarded people who could be made to bear the brunt of this brutal law without risk of public backlash. Among the more horrifying cases investigated by the Three Strikes Project is that of 55-year-old Dale Curtis Gaines, who suffers from both mental retardation and mental illness. He has never committed a violent crime, but is serving a life sentence for receiving stolen property. His first two strikes, daytime burglaries of empty homes during which he was unarmed, appear to have involved thefts valued at little more than pocket change.

According to court documents, Mr. Gaines’s early childhood was a nightmare, filled with the most savage forms of abuse. His grandmother, a primary care giver, is said to have beaten him when he urinated or defecated in bed — and forced him to eat his feces as punishment. Later, as often happens with mentally impaired adolescents, he began to skip school because he was ashamed that he could not keep up with his classmates. He was often homeless. While serving time for his second crime, he was diagnosed by the prison system itself as both mentally disabled and schizophrenic.

He was clearly too impaired to help with his defense, and at one point simply put a blanket over his head and declined to speak to a doctor who was questioning him. His ability to read is comparable to that of a kindergartner.

At the time of his third strike, for receiving stolen computer equipment, Mr. Gaines was getting Social Security and disability benefits because of mental illness and retardation. His mental health history, readily available in the prison record, would probably have been recognized as a mitigating factor and prevented him from being so harshly sentenced. But, according to court documents, his public defender presented no evidence about his disability.

In 2010, 12 years after Mr. Gaines was convicted, the prosecutor who handled the case but by then had left the district attorney’s office wrote to him in prison, expressing regret and offering help if he wished to appeal. The Stanford students also noticed his case and are now trying to free him.

Mr. Gaines’s story is not unique. And as more cases unfold in court, judges, lawyers and Californians should look back with shame at the injustice the state inflicted on a vulnerable population that often presented little or no danger to the public. 

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