Law Offices of William V. Pernik

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California’s Three Strikes law is a felony sentencing scheme that was enacted in 1994, and has quickly become one of the harshest habitual offender sentencing laws in the country. It was initially drafted to combat violent recidivism by providing for mandatory life sentence for anyone convicted of any felony offense, if that person had previously been convicted of 2 or more “serious” or “violent” felonies, also known as “strikes”. In addition, the law significantly increased sentences for anyone convicted of a felony, if that person had previously been convicted of at least one prior serious or violent felony. It created a complicated system of sentencing enhancements, plea bargaining and probation prohibitions, and sentencing credit limitations, requiring an assistance of a skilled legal practitioner.

What Is a “Strike”

A “strike” is defined as any felony offense that is either “serious” or “violent” under the law. A felony is considered “violent,” and therefore a “violent strike” if it falls into one of 23 categories listed in Penal Code section 667.5, subd.(c). Similarly, a felony is considered “serious,” and therefore a “serious strike” if it falls under one of 42 categories listed in Penal Code section 1192.7, subd. (c). Depending on whether a strike is “violent” or “serious” different credit limitations and enhancements may apply. Special rules apply to juvenile adjudications which may be used as “strike” priors under some circumstances, out-of-state convictions, and multiple strikes from a single court proceeding.

Common examples of strike offenses include: arson, assault with deadly weapon or where a victim sustained great bodily injury, residential burglary, robbery, rape, carjacking, criminal threats, dissuading a witness, substantive gang crimes, kidnapping, murder, mayhem, most felony sex offenses, and any felony where the defendant personally inflicted a great bodily injury, used a firearm in commission of the offense, or where the offense was committed for the benefit of the gang, to name a few.

Proposition 36

By 2012, the voters realized that contrary to the initial design, the Three Strikes law has resulted in massive incarcerations of largely nonviolent offenders, such as thieves, burglars, or drug addicts, disproportionately impacting minority defendants, exacerbating the overcrowding of the California prisons, and costing the taxpayers millions of dollars to care for a significant population of aging offenders who no longer posed a significant threat to the public. Because of that, on November 26, 2012, California voters passed Proposition 36, under which a third offense will no longer trigger a 25-life sentence, unless that offense in itself is either a serious or violent felony. The new statute also established a mechanism under which defendants sentenced to life terms under former regime could petition for resentencing and potential release. 

Exceptions to Proposition 36

Even under the new Three Strikes law, there are a number of exceptions to the rule that the third, or qualifying, offense has to be a “serious” or “violent” felony in order for the mandatory life sentence to apply. For example, if the third offense involves possession for sale, sale, transportation, or manufacturing of cocaine, heroin, or methamphetamine, the defendant could still receive the maximum three strikes penalty of life in prison. In addition, felony sex offenses or most felonies that result in mandatory sex offender registration under Penal Code section 290 are also exempt, as well as any third offense in the commission of which the defendant used a firearm, was armed with a deadly weapon, or intended to cause a great bodily injury. The reform also created a new list of especially heinous offenses known as “super-strikes,” which is comprised primarily of violent sex offenses, sexual acts with children under 14, murder, manslaughter, or solicitation to commit murder, and any serious or violent felony the maximum sentence for which could include life in prison or the death penalty.

Romero Motions

A “Romero motion” is a motion brought to the court, asking it to strike in furtherance of justice a prior strike allegation and sentence the defendant to less time in prison. In ruling on this motion, the courts consider factors such as 1) the nature and circumstances of defendant’s present felony or felonies, 2) defendant’s prior serious and/or violent felonies, 3) the particulars of defendant’s background, character, and prospects. Looking at the totality of these factors, judges make a decision as to whether the defendant should be deemed to be outside of the “spirit” of the “Three Strikes” law and therefore treated as though he had not been previously convicted of one or more prior strikes.

Don’t Compromise Your Future

Because the law in this area is complex, and often changing, you need someone with experience and expertise in handling these crimes. These cases go beyond simply presenting evidence of your innocence in court and asking questions of witnesses who come to testify against you. You need someone who understands the complexity of felony sentencing, has expertise in crafting persuasive arguments to the court and the prosecution, and knows how to work around a prior strike conviction at sentencing, such as by carefully researching and drafting a compelling Romero motion in order to persuade the court to dismiss the prior strike enhancement. 

Likewise, if you decide to go to trial on your case, you deserve to have the confidence that your attorney is an experienced trial lawyer who has understood and weighed all of the risks involved in your case and has fully advised you about them so that you could make the right legal decision. At Law Offices of William V. Pernik, you will be working with a seasoned defense advocate, who has handled hundreds of serious and violent felony cases and has established a record of success in negotiating dismissals or reductions of strike charges, obtaining sentencing relief. You will also have the benefit of legal advice from someone who has actually tried and won jury trials in many serious or violent felony cases, including assaults with deadly weapon or great bodily injury, domestic battery and other felonies with great bodily injury, criminal threats, residential burglary, armed robbery, rape, kidnapping, carjacking, and many others.

When charged with a serious or violent strike, hiring a lawyer as soon as possible can be vital to the strength of your case. Please contact our office for more information or to schedule an appointment.

Law Offices of William V. Pernik serves the entire Monterey County, including the cities of Salinas, Marina, Monterey, Carmel, and Pacific Grove, and accepts cases from nearby counties of Santa Cruz and San Benito. Upon request, we also take selected cases from the San Francisco Bay Area. 

Please contact Law Offices of William V. Pernik for a free and confidential consultation. Experienced representation is just a phone call away.