Habitual offender laws in several states, including California, also known as “three strikes” laws, are a dated reminder of failed policies proposing to get “tough on crime.”
These laws are overly punitive and are racist by nature, causing catastrophic harm for families and communities across the country while driving prison populations out of control.
Louisiana case illustrates the law’s deficiencies
Under California’s “three strikes” law, defendants convicted of three serious or violent crimes receive a prison sentence of 25 years to life. They can also double the prison term for someone convicted of any felony with prior serious or violent felonies.
The law’s cruelty was recently highlighted when the Louisiana Supreme Court refused to review the life sentence for a Black man who attempted to steal a pair of hedge clippers in 1997. Fair Wayne Bryant was classified as a habitual offender under Louisiana’s more extreme “three strikes” law, which considers minor offenses under sentencing guidelines.
Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Bernette Johnson wrote a blistering dissent over the court’s refusal, saying the law can be traced to the post-Civil War period, in an attempt to subject newly-freed Black people to continued slavery through the prison system – so-called “Black codes” and “Pig Laws.”
Sentencing examples in California
Under the following sentencing scenarios, Californians can face longer prison terms under habitual offender statutes:
- Third strike: A person with two felony robbery convictions faces a felony burglary charge several years later. If convicted, he or she would typically face a six-year prison term. As a “third-striker,” they face a sentence of 25 years to life.
- Second strike: A person charged with grand theft for shoplifting a valuable item has a previous conviction for carjacking. They are deemed a “second-striker” because carjacking is considered a serious felony. That means the prison term for theft will be doubled.
Fighting outdated and punitive sentences
California’s “three strikes” law has been altered in recent years, and there are ways to fight these sentences. These include:
- Romero motion: Your defense attorney asks the court to remove a prior conviction that led to a “strike.”
- Reduced conviction: Your defense fights to have a previous felony conviction reduced to a misdemeanor.
Working with an experienced criminal defense attorney is crucial for avoiding or reducing maximum sentences. Until legislatures abolish these outdated and cruel laws and prosecutors stop seeking these unnecessary punishments, your lawyer will fight for your best interests.