You’ve probably heard about California’s “Three-Strikes Law.” If not, then pay attention – it’s one of the harshest sentencing proposals in the country. When it was first enacted, the law stated that if a person is convicted of three felonies, they will be sent to prison for 25 years to life.
In 2012, reformers and members of the public who had long fought to change California’s “Three Strikes Law” were able to get Proposition 36 onto the ballot. Under Prop 36, “California’s Three Strikes Law” was changed so that offenders convicted of a third felony would not automatically receive a sentence of 25 years to life unless their third conviction was for a violent felony. Additionally, inmates who were sentenced under the old “Three Strikes Law” were given the opportunity to petition to have their sentences reduced, provided they were not convicted of a sex crime, a drug crime that involved a large amount of drugs, a firearm, great bodily injury, or certain other violent offenses.
California’s “One Strike Law,” covered under Penal Code 667.61, is a lot like the “Three-Strikes Law” in that it is a sentence enhancement for certain crimes. When a defendant is convicted of committing a crime under certain aggravating circumstances, PC 667.61 says that their sentence can be enhanced to include 15 years, 25 years, or life in prison.
For example, a person convicted of rape who already has a previous rape conviction on their record could face 25 years to life under PC 667.61 as opposed to 3, 6, or 8 years under Penal Code 261 – California’s rape law.
PC 667.61 does not apply to every felony. It covers a very specific set of crimes, including: rape (PC 261), spousal rape (PC 262), lewd or lascivious acts (PC 288), continuous sexual abuse of a child (PC 288.5), and a few other similar crimes. The aggravating factors that qualify one of the previously listed crimes for a sentence enhancement under California’s “One Strike Law” include: a previous conviction of one of the above listed offenses, kidnapping the victim, inflicting bodily harm on the victim, using a dangerous weapon during the commission of the crime, tying the victim up, and/or administering a controlled substance to the victim.
California imposes serious sentences for the most serious crimes. PC 667.61 applies generally to repeat, violent sex-offenders, and it is often up to a judge to determine what, if any, sentence enhancement is warranted.