three strikes laws | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Courts

Three Strikes Laws are statutes that mandate longer prison sentences for individuals who have been convicted of two or more prior serious or violent felonies.

Three Strikes Laws, also known as habitual offender laws, require that individuals who have been convicted of two or more prior serious or violent felonies receive a longer prison sentence for their current offense. The purpose of these laws is to deter repeat offenders and protect society from individuals who are deemed to be habitual criminals.

One example of a Three Strikes Law is California’s Three Strikes and You’re Out Law, which was enacted in 1994. Under this law, individuals who have been convicted of two prior serious or violent felonies receive a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years to life if they are convicted of a third felony offense.

However, Three Strikes Laws have been subject to criticism and legal challenges. Critics argue that these laws are overly harsh and do not take into account the specific circumstances of each case. In addition, some argue that these laws disproportionately affect certain communities, such as minority groups and individuals with low incomes.

In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case of Ewing v. California that California’s Three Strikes Law did not violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. In this case, the defendant, Gary Ewing, had been convicted of stealing golf clubs worth $1,199 and had two prior felony convictions. He was sentenced to 25 years to life under California’s Three Strikes Law. The Supreme Court held that the sentence was not grossly disproportionate to the offense and that the state had a legitimate interest in deterring recidivism.

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Last Modified: 03/14/2023


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