Many states have three strikes laws, also known as a three strikes rule. These laws impose harsher sentences on individuals who have been convicted of certain felonies three times. In most cases, the penalty upon the third conviction is a mandatory sentence of life in prison.
Are Three Strikes Laws the Same as Habitual Offender Laws?
No, although both involve defendants convicted of multiple crimes, they are not the same. As noted above, three strikes laws apply to certain felonies. Habitual offender laws, on the other hand, can be applied on any subsequent offense after the first.
These two laws do have similar goals. They serve to deter future similar behavior from the defendant. They are also an attempt to ensure repeat offenders receive appropriate sentences and serve sufficient time before being released on parole.
The application of both of these types of laws varies by state. The application of these laws can depend on factors including:
- Length of time between the crimes;
- Seriousness of the crimes;
- The order in which the crimes were committed; and/or
- The discretion of the judge in sentencing under local laws.
What is the “3 Strikes You’re Out” Law?
Most people hear 3 strikes and you’re out and think of baseball. However, this refers to laws exacted that say three felonies, and you’re out of society. States began implementing these laws in the 1990s in response to concerns that habitual violent offenders were being released from jails and prison too quickly and were back on the streets.
There is no consistent definition of what it means to be “out” under three strikes laws. It can range from a longer sentence such as 10, 15, or 25 years to life in prison. In some states, a defendant is allowed the possibility of parole after a certain number of years served in a life sentence. However, in other states, parole is not an option.
Which States Have a Three Strikes Law?
There is a lengthy list of states that have a third strike law. These include:
- Arkansas (since 1995);
- Arizona (since 2005);
- California (since 1994);
- Colorado (since 1994);
- Connecticut (since 1994);
- Delaware (since 1973);
- Florida (since 1995);
- Georgia (since 1994);
- Indiana (since 1994);
- Kansas (since 1994);
- Louisiana (since 1994);
- Maryland (since 1975 but amended in 1994);
- Massachusetts (since 2012);
- Montana (since 1995);
- Nevada (since 1995);
- New Jersey (since 1995);
- New Mexico (since 1994);
- New York (since 1797);
- North Carolina (since 1994);
- North Dakota (since 1995);
- Pennsylvania (since 1995);
- South Carolina (since 1995);
- Tennessee (since 1994);
- Texas (since 1952);
- Utah (since 1995);
- Vermont (since 1995);
- Virginia (since 1994);
- Washington (since 1993); and
- Wisconsin (since 1994).
Three strikes laws can be viewed as controversial and it is common for states to repeal them. Some states have amended them to only apply to certain serious felonies (Delaware) or to extend the number of strikes allowed to 4 (Maryland).
Many of these original three strikes laws did not allow a judge discretion and required a longer mandatory sentence. Many states have passed reforms eliminating mandatory longer sentences and giving the judge discretion to hand down a sentence that fits the particular crime and defendant. Other common reforms include:
- The elimination of life without parole sentences;
- Removing non-violent crimes as a “strike;” and/or
- Allowing the possibility of parole earlier in a sentence.
What are the Three Strikes Law Under Federal and State Laws?
The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 is a federal law enacted in 1994 that provides a three strikes law definition for federal laws. If a defendant is convicted of three serious felonies or crimes related to drug trafficking, they will receive a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
As noted above, a large number of states have passed three strikes laws for repeat offenders. Many of these states have some variation within the three strikes law. These variations may include:
- If the law applies to felonies, misdemeanors, or both;
- What specific crimes are included; and/or
- The severity of punishment.
Prior to 2012, California had what may have been the most severe three strikes law in the United States. It was amended by proposition 36 and made less strict. In order to receive a sentence of 25 years to life in prison, a defendant’s third felony must be classified as violent or serious.
Prior to this amendment, any felony conviction would trigger the mandatory sentence if the defendant already had 2 strikes. The amendment also made the law retroactive, allowing for the possibility of resentencing for defendants previously convicted of non-violent or non-serious felonies on their third strike.
Despite this amendment, California still seriously punishes habitual offenders. The law still provides for the possibility of a life sentence for certain non-violent third strike felonies. These may include certain sex crimes, crimes involving a firearm and/or a life sentence for those defendants with previous convictions for rape, murder, or child molestation.
Additionally, the three strikes law in California applies to certain felonies committed when a defendant was a juvenile. The California law does not consider the length of time between convictions, so a third strike may apply even when previous felony convictions were many years prior.
What are Some Criticisms of Three Strikes Laws?
There are some criticisms of the three strikes legislation. The greatest of these is that in some cases, the punishment received for a conviction is extremely disproportionate to the crime the defendant was convicted of. For example, if a law covers a broad range of crimes, a defendant can face many years in prison for a less serious felony conviction. If the three strikes law was not in effect, that defendant may have received a significantly shorter sentence for the same crime.
An additional criticism of three strikes laws is based on the court’s discretion. In some cases, a judge may apply a penalty discriminatorily based on the defendant’s socioeconomic status or race.
A third major criticism of three strikes laws is that some wobbler offenses may be included. These types of offenses can be considered as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances. Therefore, if a defendant has two previous felony convictions and is charged with a wobbler crime, the court has the discretion to consider the third crime as a felony. This permits the court to impose a harsher sentence even if the crime committed would normally be classified as a misdemeanor.
To compare, a defendant who is convicted of 2 felonies and a subsequent wobbler crime can be subject to the three strikes law. However, a defendant who is convicted of a wobbler crime and then 2 subsequent felonies may not trigger the three strikes law, even though the crimes may have been exactly the same. This creates a discrepancy in sentencing.
Because of the criticisms discussed above, many individuals do not favor three strikes laws. Some would like them to be abolished. Others would like to limit them to very serious felonies, including high level drug crimes and violent crimes.
Do I Need to Consult with a Criminal Defense Attorney?
Yes, if you are facing a felony charge and/or possible implementation of the three strikes law, it is extremely important to consult with an experienced criminal lawyer. A felony conviction can have serious and life-long consequences and possibly subject you to a three strikes law, even many years later.
Additionally, three strikes laws vary greatly across the states. These laws carry very serious penalties for repeat offenders. An attorney can review the facts of your case, advise you on what laws apply to you, and represent you during any court proceedings.
Is the 3 strikes law still in effect? ›
The Government has passed the Three Strikes Legislation Repeal Act 2022, which repeals the mandatory sentencing regime commonly known as the three strikes law. The Sentencing and Parole Reform Act 2010 introduced the three strikes law.What does 3 strikes and you're out mean? ›
said to mean that a country or an organization has a policy or law, according to which people who commit three offences are punished very severely, even if the individual offences are not very serious.How long is 3 life sentences? ›
A basic life conviction in the United States carries a minimum of 25 years before parole eligibility. 3 life sentences would mean the person wouldn't be eligible for release until 75 years have passed.Which states have 3 strike laws? ›
Three strikes, or three-strikes law, is a criminal sentencing structure in which significantly harsher punishments are imposed on repeated offenders. Three-strikes laws generally mandate a life sentence for the third violation of violent felonies.What caused the 3 strikes law? ›
The Legislature and voters passed the Three Strikes law after several high profile murders committed by ex-felons raised concern that violent offenders were being released from prison only to commit new, often serious and violent, crimes in the community.Who created the 3 strikes law? ›
On March 7, 1994, Governor Wilson signed into law AB 971 (Ch 12/94, Jones) referred to as the Three Strikes and You're Out criminal sentencing measure. In November, the voters reaffirmed the measure by overwhelmingly approving Proposition 184, an initiative that is essentially identical to Chapter 12.What does 40 to life mean? ›
Essentially, an indeterminate sentence (the words “…to life”, in this context) means that they aren't ever required to let you out of prison.How long is a death sentence? ›
Death-sentenced prisoners in the U.S. typically spend more than a decade on death row prior to exoneration or execution. Some prisoners have been on death row for well over 20 years.How much does it cost to house an inmate in Texas? ›
|State||Prison population||Average cost per inmate|
Is Florida a 3 strike state? ›
Like California and many other states, Florida has a three strikes law that aims to punish habitual offenders or those who have been convicted of three or more crimes. If you have already been convicted of two felonies, another charge could lead to elevated penalties, such as life imprisonment.Is Texas a 3 strike state? ›
Texas is one of many states to enact a 'three strike' law, enforcing harsher punishments for those who have committed numerous crimes and are likely to do so again.Why is a life sentence 25 years? ›
If you are sentenced to life in prison, that could indeed mean that you will spend the rest of your natural life in prison. Those sentenced to life in prison are given a specific number of years that they must serve before becoming eligible for parole. For first degree murder, that is 25 years.Where did the three strikes originate? ›
Enacted on March 7, 1994, the three strikes law originated from the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. This law was part of the United States Department of Justice's anti-violence strategy.What are the 4 main types of sentencing? ›
Types of sentences include probation, fines, short-term incarceration, suspended sentences, which only take effect if the convict fails to meet certain conditions, payment of restitution to the victim, community service, or drug and alcohol rehabilitation for minor crimes.What is the 3 strikes law in California? ›
California's 3-Strikes and You're Out Law went into effect on March 7, 1994. Its purpose is to dramatically increase punishment for persons convicted of a felony who have previously been convicted of one or more "serious" or "violent" felonies.How do Prisons protect the public? ›
Another argument for prison is that by putting people in prison, we protect the public by ensuring these individuals cannot commit any further offences. Additionally, prison sentences provide a sense of justice to the victims affected by the crime and the public.What state first implemented the 3 strikes and you're out rule? ›
The State of Washington was the first to enact a "Three Strikes" law in 1993. Since then, more than half of the states and the federal government have enacted similar laws.How much time do you serve on a 2 year sentence in California? ›
Sentences of over 2 years
Prisoners who are sentenced to two years or more will serve half their sentence in prison and serve the rest of the sentence in the community on licence.
Definition. A strikeout occurs when a pitcher throws any combination of three swinging or looking strikes to a hitter. (A foul ball counts as a strike, but it cannot be the third and final strike of the at-bat. A foul tip, which is caught by the catcher, is considered a third strike.)
What is a strike Review? ›
A strike is a conviction in California for “violent” or “serious” felonies. These violent and serious felonies can be anything from murder to robbery.What is 3 strike rule in incident management? ›
1. What is the 3-strike rule? The 3-strike rule is communicating with the customer end for gaining additional information required to resolve a ticket. The process defines reaching out to a customer thrice within a time frame before proceeding with the closure of the ticket.Does California still have the 3 strike law? ›
California's three-strikes law has changed a lot over the past decade. Some people who were sentenced as “strikers” in the past would not be today. If you or a loved one are serving time under three strikes, you may be able to get the sentence reduced. You may also be able to apply for parole.What happens when you get 3 felonies in Texas? ›
Once you reach three felony convictions, the enhanced sentencing terms apply, and if you are convicted of that third felony, the sentence ranges from life in prison or a term of 25–99 years.Is Texas a 3 strike state? ›
Texas is one of many states to enact a 'three strike' law, enforcing harsher punishments for those who have committed numerous crimes and are likely to do so again.What is the 3 Strikes law UK? ›
These are the so-called "three strikes and you're out" provisions. There is a mandatory minimum sentence of seven years for an adult who is convicted on three separate occasion of dealing in Class A drugs - section 110 Power of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000.
On March 7, 1994, Governor Wilson signed into law AB 971 (Ch 12/94, Jones) referred to as the Three Strikes and You're Out criminal sentencing measure. In November, the voters reaffirmed the measure by overwhelmingly approving Proposition 184, an initiative that is essentially identical to Chapter 12.Why is a life sentence 25 years? ›
If you are sentenced to life in prison, that could indeed mean that you will spend the rest of your natural life in prison. Those sentenced to life in prison are given a specific number of years that they must serve before becoming eligible for parole. For first degree murder, that is 25 years.What does Prop 57 mean for inmates? ›
By approving Proposition 57, voters agreed to allow early parole opportunities for certain inmates convicted of nonviolent crimes. The parole board isn't required to let them out — it can just consider their cases sooner.What is the highest felony you can get? ›
A crime that's a Class A federal felony is the worst, with a maximum prison term of life in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000. A Class E federal felony involves a prison term of more than one year but less than five years and a maximum fine of $5,000.
Which degree is the highest in crime? ›
While it may seem a bit backwards to some people, the lower the degree of an offense (1st Degree, 2nd Degree, or 3rd Degree), the more serious charges. Likewise the higher the degree (4th Degree or 5th Degree) means the offense is of a less serious nature. Many, but not all, 1st and 2nd Degree offenses are felonies.How long is life in Texas? ›
For capital murder: as of September 1, 2005, Texas will have a life without the possibility of parole option for capital murder. The capital murder defendant sentenced to life in prison before September 1, 2005, is parole eligible after serving forty years.How much time do you serve on a 15 year sentence in Texas? ›
If one receive a 15yr. sentence in Texas with a non-violent crime they will do 3 to 6 or 7 yrs.Is there a 3 strike law in PA? ›
Pennsylvania has two- and three-strikes laws that mandate minimum terms of 10 and 25 years, respectively, for certain second- and third-time offenders.Can you get probation for a 3rd degree felony in Texas? ›
Probation is an option for people convicted of a third degree felony. In Texas, this is also known as community supervision. It is different from parole, which requires there to be time served in jail.What caused the 3 strikes law? ›
The Legislature and voters passed the Three Strikes law after several high profile murders committed by ex-felons raised concern that violent offenders were being released from prison only to commit new, often serious and violent, crimes in the community.Does NY have 3 strikes law? ›
In New York State, the three strikes law imposes severe punishment on individuals who have been convicted of certain felony offenses three times. The three strikes law in New York usually deals with serious and violent crimes, such as murder, rape, and arson.How much time do you serve on a 7 year sentence UK? ›
If you are sentenced to a 7 year sentence then the maximum time you would serve in prison would be 42 months. You would not be eligible for HDC (Tag) if your sentence is over 4 years. If you are sentenced to a 8 year sentence then the maximum time you would serve in prison would be 48 months.