What About Strike Two of California’s Three Strikes Law?

Last week in the San Francisco Gate there was an article on the little talked about second strike of the three strikes law in California. It seems this tenet of the law has been lost in the shadows of the life sentence a third strike potentially carries. While people are discussing reforming this law, not much of the argument is spent on the fact that more people are serving longer sentences for a second strike offense than a third strike offense—something that advocates of reform say must change.

The three strikes law was enacted to severely punish those who are repeatedly seen for felony criminal charges. If you have three strikes, or three felonies, under your belt, you can be sentenced to life in prison. However, if you are charged with a second strike, you can face double the sentence that you normally would, and this longer sentence is not subject to appeal.

Nearly 20% of California inmates are serving a sentence under the second strike provision. Only 8,700 are serving for a third strike. And because the Unites States Supreme Court has ordered California to reduce its prison population by 30,000, it seems prudent to address the second strike sentences and potential problems with the law.

“The problem with strike sentences is that it’s not based on an individual determination of protecting the public and ensuring that the personal characteristics of the accused are taken into consideration,” says one local public defender. When a sentence is automatically doubled for a second felony offense regardless of the crime or the circumstances, the system has become reliant on a formula rather than common sense.

Another problem with second strikers, is the cost of locking them up. Anyone sentenced under the three strikes law will not be diverted to local jails under Governor Jerry Browns new plan. They also have to serve more of their sentence than offenders not sentenced under the law. Second and third strikers have to serve 85% of their sentence, even if it’s for a nonviolent charge. The longer sentence also means a higher security classification in prison. Regardless of the crime they were convicted for, a longer sentence means more expensive housing at a more secure facility.

Potentially exacerbating the situation for second strikers is the fact that their sentence can be subject to enhancements as well. For example, armed robbery typically carries 5 years. If this is your second strike, however, it carries ten. You can also face several additional years if a gun was used in the commission of the offense in a sentencing enhancement.

While judges and prosecutors have begun withholding the most severe sentences for the cases in which it may be truly warranted, in some cases they don’t have a choice. Second strikes have a mandatory double sentence, period.

If you are facing criminal charges and are concerned about how your criminal history could affect your current situation, contact us today to discuss the case against you.