California Criminal Lawyer’s Opinion on Three Strikes Initiative

Consider the following scenario: your client is charged with burglary, possession for sales of heroin and receiving stolen property. He’s got a couple of strike priors, has been to prison once before and is now facing 25 to Life. The D.A. offers to strike one of his strikes and give him 11 years. He will serve 80% of his sentence.

This is a common situation, so common that among experienced criminal defense lawyers it hardly raises an eyebrow. But 12 years ago, following passage of the 3-strikes initiative, this was a high-stress event for attorneys and clients alike.

Does Three Strikes work? Does it prevent future crimes? Logically, if someone is in prison, they cannot commit a crime on the streets.

Does Three Strikes make for good law? It takes a lot of authority away from judges and shifts it to the prosecutor’s office. Depending on the jurisdiction and the politics of the particular prosecutor’s office, defendants may benefit or suffer.

During the last major election cycle in California, Proposition 66, which would have required the third strike to be a serious or violent felony, nearly passed until a last-minute effort from opponents defeated it, claiming thousands of murderers and rapists would be “let loose” on the streets, an unsupported claim.

Giving the judges authority to sentence defendants in a manner befitting the crime makes the system stronger. It balances the power of the executive (DA) against the judicial and creates a kind of respect between the two that ultimately strengthens the laws that serve all of us.