In 1994, California Governor Pete Wilson signed the Three Strikes Law in direct reaction to the brutal kidnapping and murder of Polly Klaus in Northern California by a twice-convicted violent felon. The Three Strike Laws greatly increasing punishment for repeat felony offenders. The Three Strikes Law applies to certain enumerated felonies that are deemed be either serious and/or violent. Strike felonies include, but are not limited to: robbery, residential burglary, criminal threats, assaults with a deadly weapon rape, murder, gang crimes; even minor crimes with gang enhancements attached.
General Felony Sentencing Principles
Felony convictions can result in two possible sentences; 1) a crime which carries up to a year in the local jail followed by a release on formal probation or 2) a sentence to a state prison followed by a release on parole. Each felony charge has a potential state prison sentencing range that breaks down in to three potential sentences (low-term, mid-term and high term). The more or less aggravated the crime determines whether a person will receive the low, mid or high term.
If an individual commits a strike offense, then that strike can be used against him in all future felony cases (whether the new felony case constitutes a strike or not). Having one strike felony on your record could result in the low, mid or high terms in state prison being doubled at the time of sentencing. For example a person who is arrested for felony possession of a controlled substance faces a potential prison sentence of 16 months, 2 years or 3 years in prison. However, if the person already has a strike prior the sentence range doubles to 32 months, 4 years or 6 years. Also because of having the strike prior the person will serve 80 % of their prison sentence versus the 50 % they would serve without the strike.
If an individual has two or more prior strike felony convictions then any future felony exposes the person to a potential 25 years to life prison sentence. It does not matter that the new felony could be a simple drug possession, a petty theft with a prior or any other “minor” felony. The mere fact the person has two prior strike convictions, no matter how old, potentially exposes the person to minimum sentence of 25 years to life in prison. If convicted under the Three Strike Laws the person would not be eligible for parole until they have served 80 % of the 25 year to life sentence. Currently there are thousands of individuals serving life sentences as a result of the Three Strikes Law. The California Supreme Court found it was not a “cruel and unusual” punishment for a man to be sentenced to a 25 years to life sentence for stealing a slice of pizza because he had to prior convictions for residential burglary.
Both judges and a district attorneys have the power to strike a strike for purposes of resolving cases. Defense attorneys often file Romero Motions to provide information to the Judges or District Attorneys to convince them the person charged under the Three Strike Laws should not face the full wrath of the harsh sentences. Romero Motions are motions that set forth all of the good things the person facing sentencing under the Three Strike Laws has going for them such as being a family man, the minor nature of the current offense, the fact the priors may have happened during a single incident or the fact the priors happened a long time in the past.
Therefore, just because a person faces sentencing under the Three Strike Laws does not mean the Three Strike Laws will be applied against them. An experienced attorney such as Sean Hennessey has successfully handled numerous cases where multiple strike offenses have been stricken by Judges and District Attorneys and has successfully defended individuals at trial where the jury has found the person not guilty of the new felony.
The Real Problem with Strikes
Once you have a strike prior, it now becomes more difficult to fight your cases. If you lose at trial, your sentencing is in the hands of your trial judge. It is in his or her discretion to apply your prior strikes or not apply them. Consequently, you could get 25 to life in prison if you lose at trial and the judge decides to apply 2 or more of your prior strikes.
People with strike priors have more to risk than most others when they pick up new criminal cases. Sean Hennessey has successfully handled 100’s of cases dealing with one or more strikes alleged against a person. Sean Hennessey is well known by the Judges and District Attorneys who handle Three Strike cases.
If you find yourself charged with a Strike case you need to consult with The Law Office of Sean Hennessey immediately. Sean Hennessey will explore all potential options available to defend your case and zealously defend you against the harsh Three Strike sentencing laws.
Below are several Three Strike Cases Sean has handled through to a jury trial.
- Client charged with Grand Theft Auto and possession of a car without the owner’s permission. The client had 4 armed robbery priors.FACTS: Witness sees car stolen from a parking lot and calls 911. 20 minutes later the Defendant is captured in the stolen car 15 miles from the location of the theft. The Defendant is alone in the car. The Defendant says he got the car from a friend and was on his way to see his girlfriend. The Defendant was extremely drunk when he was arrested. All pre-trial offers were 25 years to life in prison.
TRIAL: At trial the Defendant testified he was in a bar drinking when a friend he knew from prison came in and asked if he knew where to get heroin. The Defendant testified he knew where to get heroin but could not bring his friend to his dealer’s house. The friend said he had a car out back and gave the Defendant the keys. The bar was less than a block from where the car was stolen.
RESULT: The jury found Defendant Not Guilty of all charges after deliberating for 8 hours.
- Client was charged with stealing food from 7-11. The client had a serious residential burglary prior where he attempted to rape a woman but was interrupted by the woman’s father. Because the client had a theft prior the new minor theft charge was filed and pursued as a Third Strike Felony.FACTS: Store manager sees Defendant put several bags of beef jerky in his coat and walk out without paying. The Defendant is found behind the 7-11 with his hand in a bag of beef jerky. The client is extremely drunk. When asked where he got the beef jerky he said a friend gave it to him.
TRIAL: At trial Sean showed the description given of the person who stole the beef jerky did not match his description. Sean also argued the police did a horrible job investigating by failing to seize the videotape which would have shown the person enter and exit the 7-11. By time Sean got the case the 7-11 videos had already been taped over. Sean also proved someone else could have taken the beef jerky and gave it to his client before police arrived.
RESULT: Jury found Sean’s client Not Guilty of all charges after deliberating for 2 hours.