Last night California voters approved a limited modification of the state’s notorious “Three Strikes” law. Most criminal defendants who have two prior convictions for a serious or violent felony will no longer face a 25 years to life sentence. The amended provision of the law mandates a life sentence for a third felony conviction but only where the current offense involves certain sex offenses, personal use of a deadly weapon, intending to or causing great bodily injury, solicitation to commit murder, assault with a machine gun on a peace officer or firefighter, possession of a weapon of mass destruction, homicide or attempted homicide, possession of certain large quantities of specified controlled substances, or any offense punishable by a life sentence. In other words, the great majority of criminal defendants with two or more strikes on their record will no longer face a life sentence for a third felony offense.
The change in the three strikes law does not alter a sentencing court’s discretion to strike a prior conviction in the interest of justice. Therefore, even those defendants looking at a life sentence still have a chance at convincing the court to strike a prior conviction so that they might receive a determinant sentence rather than a life sentence.
The change in the law apparently applies not only to pending cases, but to past cases. There will be a number of criminal defendants serving a life sentence that will be eligible for resentencing. Under the law, if the court determines that a defendant is eligible for resentencing, the court must give the defendant a second strike sentence unless the judge feels that the defendant poses an unreasonable risk to public safety. The court is entitled to consider any evidence relevant to the issue of public safety. This means that a skilled lawyer can marshal all positive information regarding a criminal defendant and present that to the judge on the issue of whether a life sentence is still appropriate. The court would be entitled to consider post-sentencing conduct while in prison, for example. The new sentence cannot exceed the old sentence and the defendant has a right to be sentenced by the original judge unless the judge is no longer available.
If you have a legal problem in California, contact an experienced California criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to ensure that your rights are protected. For a free and confidential consultation, call San Diego criminal defense attorney Domenic J. Lombardo at (619) 232-5122 or submit the secure form on this page.