Penal Code 667 PC - California Three Strikes Law
The three strikes law in California under Penal Code 667 PC is used in sentencing a defendant where they will receive a prison sentence of 25 years to life if convicted for three serious or violent felonies.
This is the infamous three-strikes law mandating a severe sentence for those convicted of multiple felony crimes. Initially enacted in 1994 but was substantially amended in November 2012 after voters approved Proposition 36.
Notably, it also doubles the sentence for defendants convicted of any felony when they have a prior violent or another serious felony. Simply put, two and three strikes can result in a lengthy state prison sentence. The severity of the sentences under PC 667 has led to several changes in the law over the past two decades.
PC 667 says, “(a) (1) A person convicted of a serious felony who previously has been convicted of a serious felony in this state or of any offense committed in another jurisdiction that includes all of the elements of any serious felony, shall receive, in addition to the sentence imposed by the court for the present offense, a five-year enhancement for each such prior conviction on charges brought and tried separately. The terms of the present offense and each enhancement shall run consecutively.”
Subsection (2) says that if a defendant has two or more prior serious or violent felony convictions, they can receive… “(ii) Imprisonment in the state prison for 25 years.”
It's possible to challenge a sentence under the three strikes law by asking a judge to remove a prior strike, known as a Romero motion. The other option is to get your felony reduced to a misdemeanor. Let's review this law in more detail below.
How Does the Three-Strike Sentencing Work?
The three strikes law mandates longer prison sentences for a defendant convicted of a felony with prior strikes. They are considered to have a “third strike” under the following conditions:
- two prior convictions for serious or violent felonies, and
- currently charged with a serious or violent felony crime.
Under this situation, a defendant will receive a prison sentence of 25 years to life for the current felony.
If a defendant has two prior strikes for serious or violent felonies, but the current charge is not a strike crime, the third strike sentence will double the average sentence for that felony. Sometimes, however, they could still get 25 years to life in prison even if their third crime is not a serious or violent felony, such as the following:
- third offense is a felony sex crime that requires sex offender registration;
- third offense involving vast quantities of illegal drugs, such as methamphetamine, cocaine, and heroin;
- when a third offense was committed, a firearm was used, there was possession of a deadly weapon, or there was the intent to cause someone a great bodily injury (GBI).
Suppose a defendant has one prior strike on their record and is charged with a felony offense. In that case, they would be punished as a “second striker,” double the maximum sentence for that specific crime.
If a defendant is a second or third striker, they must complete 80% of their sentence. If convicted of a violent felony crime, they must serve 85% of the sentence. In addition, they must serve the strike sentences consecutively if charged with multiple offenses.
What Crimes are “Strikes” under the Three Strikes Law?
In California, a “strike” is a conviction for a violent felony crime defined under Penal Code 667.5 PC or a serious felony crime defined under Penal Code 1192.7 PC, which includes the following:
- Penal Code 187 PC – murder;
- Penal Code 664/187 PC - attempted murder;
- Penal Code 261 PC – rape;
- Penal Code 286 PC – sodomy;
- Penal Code 287 PC - oral copulation by force;
- Penal Code 288 PC - lewd acts on a child under 14;
- Penal Code 192(a) PC - voluntary manslaughter;
- Penal Code 203 PC – mayhem;
- Penal Code 297 PC – kidnapping;
- Penal Code 215 PC – carjacking;
- Penal Code 451 PC – arson;
- first-degree burglary, robbery, and bank robbery;
- kidnapping and hostage-taking by a state prisoner;
- witness or victim intimidation and criminal threats;
- discharge of a firearm at an inhabited dwelling or vehicle;
- arson and exploding destructive devices;
- assault with intent to commit rape or robbery;
- assault with a deadly weapon on a peace officer;
- any felony punishable by death or life imprisonment;
- any felony that inflicts a great bodily injury;
- any felony with a firearm or dangerous weapon.
Three-strikes disputes often occur over what constitutes a qualifying felony, especially if the conviction was in another state.
California's Three Strikes Law in Today's Modern Society
For those charged with strikes in California and looking for answers, your best bet is to sit down with a criminal defense attorney, especially if you're charged with a crime.
You need one who has experience dealing with the California three strikes law and give them all of the facts and details related to your situation, such as the following:
- How many strike priors do you have?
- Is it one, two, three, four, five?
- What is the new charge?
- Is it itself a strike, or is it just a felony?
A new law that came out recently says that to strike somebody out and give them 25 to life, the third strike that they're being charged with has to be a serious or violent felony – it has to be a strike in and of itself.
So, that's significant. That's one of a few times that any entity has assisted those individuals that have prior strikes in California. Usually, they're adding things to the three strikes law, like adding criminal threats as a new strike and adding robbery as a new strike.
How to Avoid a 25-Year Sentence in a Three-Strike Case?
Those who find themselves in the unfortunate position of being charged in a California third strike case facing 25 to life will need one of the top criminal defense attorneys.
When prosecutors file these cases, they are not messing around. They perceive the person as a career offender and try to put them away for life. So, it would be best if you had an attorney to go in there and fight for you, such as the following:
- fighting the charges themselves, showing the case is either over-filed and it shouldn't be a serious or violent felony; or
- it's trying to get a not-guilty verdict, and
- other times, they do have the evidence for a conviction.
Sometimes, you are guilty of a serious or violent felony and face a 25 to life sentence. But your attorney has got to get in there and try to get one or both of the prior strikes stricken so that you can end up with something other than that 25-year sentence.
That can be accomplished by filing a Romero motion with the judge, arguing that you do not serve that 25-year sentence or that your loved one or family member doesn't deserve that sentence.
I say that because often, family members looking for attorneys in these third strike cases because the defendant is in jail with either no bail or over a million-dollar bail, and the person cannot afford to post the bond in the case. So either way, you need an attorney who has experience.
I've been doing this now for 30 years. So, I have a good history of how that law has been applied from the beginning until today.
Fortunately, some things have been trimmed that help criminal defendants. Also, for example, if your case is in LA County, the district attorney in this county takes a very dim view of the three strikes law. So many times, we can use that to try to get you a fair resolution.
Significant Changes to the Law
The three strikes law was enacted in 1994. I've seen it change since that time, which is a significant period of time. You're talking almost 30 years later. In Los Angeles County, the district attorney – at least the current district attorney's edict is that assigned deputy district attorneys are not supposed to be using strikes against people.
However, I still see people getting charged with a new crime, whether a strike or otherwise, and then the prosecutor adds the prior strikes in the complaint or information the person is charged with.
I don't really understand why they're doing that – going against the DA's policy, but the LA county district attorney’s office seems to be in a state of flux here, where there are so many prosecutors – so much ground covered that the powers that be cannot control everything that's going on.
This, of course, is another good reason to have an attorney who has much experience and knows how to wind the criminal case through the judicial system, especially if you're charged with strike priors or a serious or violent felony.
You want to avoid those convictions if you can. In Los Angeles County, they can still charge you with a crime that would be a strike. They're not supposed to use your prior strikes against you to double or even triple your sentence.
Criminal Defense for Three Strike Cases
As noted, the California Supreme Court Case People v Superior Court (Romero) allows a defendant to ask the trial court to remove a prior strike. This means a judge can excuse or dismiss prior strikes in the interest of justice.
They will consider many factors, such as the defendant's criminal history, details of the current case, and how long the strikes occurred. Sometimes, a prosecutor will decide to “strike” allegations because they believe the defendant doesn't deserve to be treated as a striker.
Anyone facing serious felony charges needs legal representation from a lawyer with experience fighting these charges. We know how to challenge, reduce, and defeat serious felonies.
You've come to the right place if you or a loved one is charged with one, two, or three strikes under California law. First, we need to look at your prior and current strikes, and then we'll get an idea of what the person is facing – how much time they're looking at.
We also want to determine whether we can defend the case, get you a not-guilty verdict, do the preliminary hearing, and reduce some charges.
If we can't do that, I will need to assemble a mitigation package on your behalf and begin negotiating with the prosecutors. I suggest picking up the phone now and requesting a meeting with Ron Hedding. We offer a free case evaluation via phone or contact form. The Hedding Law Firm is located in Los Angeles, California.