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Orange County Bar Association

Three Strikes and You’re Out

Law Offices of William W. Bruzzo

California was one of the first to adopt the Three Strikes Law in 1994 – the law which can send a repeat offender to prison for 25 years to life when he/she is convicted of a third strike.

The Three Strikes law significantly increases the prison sentences of persons convicted of felonies who have been previously convicted of two violent crimes or serious felonies, such as: murder, robbery of a residence in which a deadly or dangerous weapon is used, rape and other sex offenses, burglary of a residence and assault with intent to commit a robbery or rape and murder. Although the prior strikes have to be serious violent crimes, the third strike does not have to be such. So a person can go to prison for 25 years to life for shoplifting golf clubs if he/she already has two prior strikes.

California’s counties tend to enforce the Three Strikes Law in different ways. Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley, who supports the law, almost never charges a nonviolent offense as a third strike. But just 100 miles north in Kern County, District Attorney Ed Jagels almost always does and explains, “I don’t know one of these individuals who wouldn’t have re-offended had he gotten a short sentence instead of a longer one.”

District Attorney Jagels prosecuted a man who was arrested for stealing a pack of doughnuts worth about a dollar. Because this man had two strikes for robbery, he faced 25 years to life for the doughnuts. But it’s highly unlikely that the doughnut guy would be prosecuted with a third strike in Los Angeles County. The Orange County District Attorney falls somewhere in the middle. They might allege a relatively minor offense as a third strike but then agree to remove it later as part of a plea deal so that the Defendant is not looking at a life sentence.

While Los Angeles District Attorney Cooley almost never charges a nonviolent offense as a third strike, he supports the three strikes law but just thinks it needs to be changed or it will not last. More than likely though, the three strikes law is unlikely to be changed anytime soon. It has become iconic in our state’s criminal justice system– “Three Strikes and You’re Out.”

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