Involvement in criminal activities could land you in serious trouble with the authorities, especially if you face charges for listed serious crimes. Regardless of your case's circumstances, you may stand in a disadvantaged position and receive severe penalties for breaking the law and engaging in a strike felony. The three-strike law applied in California incorporates stringent measures extended to any defendant engaged in previous felony convictions. While you may find it quite challenging to raise defenses when charged with a felony, finding an experienced criminal defense lawyer will significantly reduce the penalties.
Before beginning the trial, you need to get into contact with a defense lawyer who will give you comprehensive and detailed information concerning three-strike laws and the defenses available depending on your case. At the Law Offices of Foutain & Hattersley, we are committed to providing the best legal services to all our clients who face criminal charges within the three-strike law. Over the years, we have managed to work out negotiations with prosecutors to ensure that our clients do not receive harsh and unwarranted penalties derived from the improper use of the three-strike laws.
The Legal Definition of Three Strike Laws
Before determining the defenses you will apply to your case, you need to understand what three-strikes laws are and the consequences they bring to you as a defendant. The California Penal Code gives a broad and elaborate definition of these laws under section 667. Overall, a three-strike law seeks to enhance punishment given to a previously convicted offender who has faced prior felony convictions. The section also states that the crime has to be listed as a violent or severe felony to apply the three-strike laws to the defendant facing the sentence.
Moreover, three-strike laws can also double the sentence you were to receive, depending on the level of a strike that you are in. For example, anyone who has committed two previous severe or violent felonies is likely to face a double sentence for the new charges.
Section 1192.7 of the Penal Code lists all the felonies that amount to serious crimes in California based on the gravity of the effect they have on the victim of the crime. Murder tops the list as one of the most serious crimes, mainly because of the fatal consequences a defendant subjects to the deceased. Additionally, it qualifies as a severe criminal offense because of the deliberate element of a crime that suggests an intentional commission of an unlawful act. Secondly, manslaughter also appears on the list of severe felonies for the grave effects caused when a suspect causes the death of another because of undue disregard for human life. Besides these two felonies, the list also includes crimes like:
If your charges involve any of the listed crimes, your conviction will undoubtedly attract a felony strike.
Additionally, Section 667.5 provides a list for all offenses that amount to violent felonies, similarly attracting a strike upon conviction. Usually, violent crimes involve using excessive force to effect an unlawful action on a crime victim. Therefore, you may be included in a forceful and illegal invasion of personal space or property. Moreover, crimes that involve exposing minors to inherent threats also fall under this category. Committing grand theft in possession of a firearm is one of the criminal activities that fall under the category of violent felonies. A direct link demonstrated by the prosecutor in court may show that you used the firearm to cause alarm, actual harm, or coercion to the crime victim. The violence caused while engaging in the theft amounts to a violent felony charge. Other crimes under the category are:
- Selling Methamphetamine or Cocaine to an underaged person.
- Committing burglary
- Forced sodomy
Overall, a defendant who has committed any of the listed severe or violent felonies and repeats them twice more will have a full three-strike law effect used against him/her. The imposition of the strike laws means that your sentences are enhanced to the maximum option if possible, sometimes with limited parole options.
Despite the general classification of the felonies, you will face convictions depending on the strike level. It is crucial to learn of the consequences of facing charges as a second or third striker because you and your defense attorney will be prepared for the outcomes that await you.
Conviction as a Second Striker
Being a second striker means that you have faced one previous conviction, with serious or violent felony charges. Therefore, you must have completed your sentence and were released from jail, leading to a second opportunity to commit a crime. In this case, engaging in a felony that attracts a strike record again will open a new trial. If the presiding judge or jury finds you guilty of a second-time offense, you will become a second striker.
Subsequently, the strike law provisions direct the judge to enhance your sentence for the crime in question, to make it double the original penalty set for the conviction. For example, if you are found guilty of extortion, which is a serious felony, you will face eight years in prison, instead of the usual four years in section 518 of the Penal Code. The double sentence arises because of your previous criminal record involving another strike felony, like carjacking or rape. As long as the prosecutor can prove that your criminal record in the prior crime is valid, you will receive a sentence under the strike laws.
Conviction as a Third Striker
Finding yourself on the wrong side of the law for the third time often indicates a lack of concern for the general rule of law, according to most prosecutors seeking to prove that you are guilty of the charges you face. As a third striker, you will have met two previous convictions for violent or serious felonies, which could be any of the listed illegalities above.
For example, your first strike could have been involved in a burglary in the first degree that led to five to seven years in prison. After release, you may have relapsed again and involved yourself in selling schedule 1 drugs to a minor, causing a second conviction on your case. Therefore, if, after release for the second felony conviction, you manage to face criminal felony charges for the third time, the scenario will significantly aggravate your case. The minimum penalty for a third strike conviction is twenty-five years in jail, while the maximum sentence may lead to life imprisonment.
If you face charges for a crime that does not fall under the dangerous or violent felony category, but still have a previous two-strike record, you will meet the sentencing guideline availed to a two striker defendant. Consequently, your sentence will be double the usual penalty issued to any person guilty of the crime. An example of such a case may be when you commit the crime of insurance fraud, with a prior conviction for two strikes. Although insurance fraud does not amount to a strike felony, your sentence is doubled because of your criminal record. Doubtless, if you were engaged in serious crimes, the judge will be less lenient in issuing the double sentence as punishment.
Additionally, the three strike law system of sentencing may lead to a severe conviction ranging from twenty-five years to life in prison, even if your current charges do not amount to a serious or violent felony. If that is the case, several circumstances surrounding your case must undergo investigation, to ensure that the strict sentencing policy is applied only if your criminal actions were aggravated. Some of the conditions that may lead to a maximum sentence despite a non-serious third-time offense are:
When One of Your Previous Criminal Violations Were Serious
While there are direct mentions that provide for all the severe and violent crimes that result in a strike record, some of the criminal offenses fall in a group called extremely serious, mainly for the grave violation that the victim undergoes. One of the particularly severe crimes is engaging in any sex crimes with a child. The violations may involve statutory rape, lewd actions with the child, engaging the minor in prostitution forcefully, among others. Moreover, murder and manslaughter crimes are also grave offenses that also appear in the exceptions.
You Intended to Commit Grievous Bodily Harm While Committing an Offense
Often, a defendant will have an intention to harm the crime victim severely, either to prevent the person from interfering with the defendant's actions or to reduce the possibility of the victim appearing as a witness later. Even if you, the defendant, do not manage to harm the person in question, it is enough for the prosecutor to prove that you had a criminal intent to harm the victim. He/she does this by inferring from the circumstances surrounding your case. Therefore, if you possessed a weapon used to harm human beings, the prosecution's team can present a line of argument placing blame on you for the intention to cause harm. Other times, you may have also begun to harm the person, but did not manage to cause severe bodily harm. Nevertheless, engaging in the act of causing damage is enough to conclude that you had the intention to cause aggravated harm.
Your Third Crime Involved Sex Crimes Requiring Registration
When you engage in sexual offenses that result in registration as a sex offender as an additional penalty, the judge will consider this a severe violation and move you to the enhanced penalty category. It is immaterial that your offense does not amount to a violent sex crime, as long as registration is mandatory for anyone found guilty of the offense.
You Used a Deadly Weapon When Committing The Third Crime
Using a lethal firearm like a loaded gun or any other deadly weapon like a flick knife to commit the third crime, you can also face the harsh maximum penalties reserved to third striker offenders. Subsequently, the judge will disregard the fact that your third crime is not necessarily a serious or violent felony because of the aggravated element of including a deadly weapon. It is important to note that you do not have to cause great bodily harm using the weapon. Thus, the prosecutor only needs to prove that the firearm was a useful accessory in coercing or scaring the victim of your actions into agreeing to your demands.
Strikes for Juvenile Crimes Committed
A defendant who first received a felony strike conviction when he/she was younger may evade receiving punishments based on the three-strike laws. However, there is an age limit for juvenile crimes committed during that period. You must have been at least sixteen years at the time of committing the crime. Hence, if you committed any serious felonies beyond this age, but were still a minor, you cease to be protected by the juvenile restrictions that exclude you from a three-strike sentencing policy.
Convictions in Another State
You also need to know that facing a sentence for a serious or violent felony in another state does not exclude you from receiving sentences under the threes trike law. The prosecutor gets reports and records from databases like the Federal Bureau of Investigation and uses the information obtained to compare the California Penal Code's rules with the elements of the crime you engaged in. Therefore, if your actions amounted to the commission of a serious crime, records will include your offense as a strike felony.
Serving Consecutive Sentences
A defendant involved in a serious or violent crime often engages in two or more offenses to cover up for the wrongful actions, or to coerce any witnesses at the scene of the crime. Depending on your case's circumstances, you may be set to receive more than one strike in a single trial, if the prosecution can prove your engagement in multiple serious crimes.
If the prosecutor is successful, you will be found guilty of two or more criminal offenses, warranting three strikes by the end of the proceedings. Afterward, you will receive a sentence that relies on the evidence presented against you directly. You will, therefore, receive consecutive sentences for all the criminal activities you involve yourself in. For example, if you carjacked a motorist and drove off with the vehicle to commit first-degree burglary, the crimes attract two separate jail terms to be served consecutively. However, your actions must have taken place at different times, giving rise to various sets of facts linked to you.
Preparing Defenses for Three Strike Convictions
Your criminal defense attorney has to conduct diligent research and analysis to prepare the best defense tactics. Presenting clear arguments before a judge or jury will be beneficial, mainly by reducing your sentence significantly. Several options are available for your criminal defense lawyer to use in court, depending on your actions. Some of the available defenses your lawyer may use to prevent the impact of three-strike laws are:
You Did not Have Previous Strikes
It is not uncommon for you to face unfair convictions caused by fabricated evidence from malicious parties. Sometimes, the prosecutor's integrity is compromised by an interested third party set to manipulate data to your detriment. Therefore, during the discovery stage of proceedings, your criminal lawyer can raise concerns for any false evidence that shows any previous strike records in your name. Additionally, your lawyer should obtain credible documents to counter the proof beforehand to prove the invalidity of claims that place claims you had previously committed serious crimes.
You Are Innocent or Current Charges
Another means of avoiding the three strike law's imposition is by proving your innocence in the current case. For the prosecutor to prove your guilt in any criminal case, he/she must successfully prove that you had the two main elements of the crime that result in illegality. The details are the mental intent, and the actual commission of the crime. The prosecution must prove several actions that occurred beyond any reasonable doubt. Your defense lawyer must prepare to counter the claims presented by the prosecutor at this stage because any counter-argument serves to raise new points of uncertainty that will throw off the other party's claims. If your lawyer is successful in proving your innocence, you are not eligible to face any sentencing under three-strike laws.
The Romero Motion
The Romero motion is most effective in cases where the judge will inherently find you guilty of the charges presented against you. If you choose to plead for the removal of previous strikes from consideration when receiving your sentence, your lawyer can present the Romero Motion to the presiding jury. Typically, these motions serve to request the judge to consider the guidelines to promote justice, by disregarding irrelevant information tied to prior strikes. Therefore, Romero Motion calls for the judge to find all the existing circumstances of your case in making a final determination and issuing a sentence, instead of relying solely on the previous strike convictions.
When applying the Romero Motion, you should note that it only applies to the current matter, and cannot act retrogressively. Thus, you cannot request for the dismissal of a previous strike, because the issue was already determined at the time.
Some of the elements that the judge may consider whether to disregard the previous strike include:
We recommend informing your defense attorney of any reform programs you have registered and taken up after the last strike conviction you were involved in. When your lawyer presents certified documents that validate your efforts to reform from your previous criminal activities, it will mitigate your cause. It may persuade the judge to rule out previous strikes. Conversely, if you continue exhibiting behavior that hints to non-reform, you may ruin your chances of getting your last strike disregarded.
Additionally, you may be in a more advantaged position if the last time you received a strike is considerably long ago. The long duration without involvement in criminal activity is an essential factor that the judge ought to consider. Hence, your defense lawyer should raise such a point in presenting the motion, to add to the possibility of getting a previous strike ruled out. Moreover, most defendants with a significant gap between the past strike and the present conviction can argue that they have taken additional reforms, to become better citizens of society.
The Events Leading to the Crime
Sometimes, you could be an accessory after the fact in a serious or violent felony, instead of the mastermind who is often guilty of forming the criminal intention. In such a case, the circumstances surrounding your charges are relevant in dissociating you from taking full blame. If your criminal defense attorney can prove that you had no direct involvement in the offense, it may convince the judge to dismiss previous strikes.
If your criminal defense lawyer is successful in presenting the Romero Motion, your previous strike convictions become irrelevant and subsequently become non-strikes. Such an effect is a significant improvement from your initial position because it means that records will not influence the sentence you receive for your current criminal charge. Therefore, you can look forward to a more lenient sentence, with fewer penalties and less jail time.
Moreover, a successful application of the Romero motion can avoid jail time altogether, especially if the charges you face do not fall under the serious/violent felony category. If you are in such a position, your lawyer can use his/her negotiation skills to secure your release on probation, instead of spending time in prison.
Contact a Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
When you face criminal charges, it may come as a hard blow, especially if you already have previous strikes on your record. To avoid the third strike conviction, you need the help of an experienced defense attorney who will offer legal counsel and representation for your matter. At the Law Offices of Foutain & Hattersley, we are committed to each client's needs to ensure that you receive highly effective and personalized legal services. If you require the help of a criminal lawyer in Pasadena, California, call us today at 626-793-4111.