Three Strikes Law

Under the Three Strikes Law, anyone who has 3 or more convictions for serious felonies gets a mandatory sentence of 25 years to life in prison on their third conviction. In some cases, this can apply to DUI charges.

In 1993, Californians were outraged over the murders of two teenagers, including a 12-year old who had been kidnapped at knifepoint from her own slumber party. Both murders were committed by men who had a history of violent crimes, but who had been released from prison anyway. People wanted justice.

The result was California’s notorious Three Strikes Act. Although created with noble intentions, this law became one of the most infamous and draconian criminal laws in the United States. It has since been reformed, but is still a very strict law with often unfairly harsh consequences.

Under the peop

  • Anyone who is convicted of a “serious” or “violent” felony gets one strike
  • If you get three strikes, your third strike carries an automatic sentence of 25 years to life

What counts as a “strike”?

Originally the law applied to all felony convictions, but it was reformed in the 2000s to only include felonies that are listed as violent or serious in the California Penal Code. These include crimes such as:

  • Carjacking
  • Sexual assault
  • Residential robbery
  • Assault
  • Manslaughter
  • Murder

Under the old version of the law, people could even end up with a life sentence for nonviolent crimes such as shoplifting or drug possession charges. That has ben fixed, and prisoners who were convicted under the old law can petition for early release. Unfortunately, some DUI cases still occupy a gray area where they could count as a strike.

When is a DUI a strike under the Three Strikes Law?

Most DUIs do not count as a strike at all. However, a DUI can be a strike in three main circumstances:

  1. The DUI involved a death and is charged as DUI manslaughter or DUI murder. Since manslaughter and murder are violent felonies, they count as strikes.
  2. The DUI involved injuries that were deemed to count as great bodily harm. If you directly cause great bodily harm to someone during a crime, including DUI, it does count as a serious felony even if it normally wouldn’t. This makes it a strike.
  3. You have a previous DUI conviction involving manslaughter, murder or great bodily harm. If you are brought in on a new DUI charge, even many years later, the prosecutor can charge it as a felony because of your prior convictions—even if no one was hurt this time. Because of the circumstances of the past DUI, the new DUI can also be treated as a strike.

This last type of strike is controversial, but has been upheld by the California Supreme Court in People v. Doyle.

If your DUI involves any of these conditions, you need to speak to a lawyer immediately.

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