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Is the three-strikes law, which provides mandatory 25-to-life sentences for a third felony conviction, a good idea?

In a Nutshell

Yes

No

  1. It provides a fix for a flawed justice system so that repeat offenders stay in prison.
  2. The law provides a very effective deterrent after the 2nd conviction.
  3. The media distorts the true effectiveness of the law by showing trivial cases (like someone stealing pizza) rather than the usual perpetrators.
  4. The law applies to 3 convictions, not 3 crimes (i.e. criminals may get away with several incidents).
  1. The law destroys the flexibility of the courts and the judge.
  2. It is unjust in certain conditions (victimless crimes, young criminals, etc.).
  3. Criminals often plea bargain their first two convictions.
  4. It is a violation of the 8th Amendment to the Constitution.
  5. An arrest of someone with two convictions almost guarantees the cost and time of a trial.
  6. The law adds more criminals to an already crowded and expensive prison system.

Related Links

Overview/Background

California has led the charge on a new concept of dealing with repeat offenders--the Three Strikes Law. Under this law, a person who is convicted of three felonies is given a mandatory 25-to-life sentence. A felony is defined as any crime punishable by 1 year or more in prison.

The law has been criticized for applying a one-size-fits-all sentence to repeat offenders. The often noted example is one young man who received the sentence after stealing a pizza. However, advocates of the law quote the large number of repeat offenders that always seem to slip through the justice system without the three-strikes law in force.

Yes

  1. It provides a fix for a flawed justice system so that repeat offenders stay in prison. To many crime victims, the U.S. judicial system has become somewhat of a joke. Evidentiary exception rules, case backlogs, liberal sentences, plea bargaining, and a protect-the-criminal-rather-than-the-victim mentality has far too often let criminals slip through the cracks. Most of the crime nowadays is committed by repeat offenders. The three strikes law is a way to ensure justice is done even if the system otherwise fails miserably.

  2. The law provides a very effective deterrent after the 2nd conviction. Arguments always arise over what is the best deterrent. Is there a better deterrent than the knowledge you will definitely go to jail for at least 25 years if convicted again? This will not only discourage the more serious crime such as rape and armed robbery, it will discourage the more minor offenses of things like burglary. It's not like this law is secret or unknown to the criminals.

  3. The media distorts the true effectiveness of the law by showing trivial cases (like someone stealing pizza) rather than the usual perpetrators. The liberal media obviously has an agenda to push when it portrays poor, helpless felons in jail for the rest of their lives for stealing videos or pizza, or committing some other "harmless" crime. Unfortunately, the stories don't reflect the reality of repeat offender data. With thousands of cases, you're always bound to find exceptions like these. However, the law punishes rapists, armed robbers, extortionists, organized criminals, and more. An objective media portrayal would show the 3 victims of the three-strike criminal and the impact on them.

  4. The law applies to 3 convictions, not 3 crimes (i.e. criminals may get away with several incidents). We all know that in the real world criminals get away with many crimes. The police may not have any clue who committed the crime, the police may not have near enough evidence to prosecute, and the criminal may simply slip through the system with the aid of a slick lawyer. It's a major judicial accomplishment to get one conviction. Thus, when the three-strikes law is applied, it is often applied to a criminal who has committed far more than 3 crimes.

No

  1. The law destroys the flexibility of the courts and the judge. Each criminal offender is different. Each set of crimes is different. The specific reason we have judges, juries, and lawyers is that each situation deserves a fair analysis and punishment. A one-size-fits-all system of judgment destroys the flexibility.

  2. It is unjust in certain conditions (victimless crimes, young criminals, etc.). There are always going to be cases like the stealing videos or pizza that are unjustly subjected to the three-strikes law. You may have an 18-year old who commits three crimes before he's mature enough to make quality decisions. You have 2-time convicted felons who may have been leading decent, upstanding lives being at the wrong place at the wrong time. You may have a sequence of lighter crimes such as burglary, breaking & entering, or stealing a car. Certainly committing these crimes are wrong and deserve punishment; however, is 25 years to life a reasonable punishment (in addition to whatever they were sentenced for the first 2 crimes)?

  3. Criminals often plea bargain their first two convictions. Plea bargains have become the overwhelming choice of prosecutors nowadays. The backlog of cases and high cost of a trial forces the state to use these. Defense attorneys (especially court-appointed ones) overwhelmingly talk their clients into these plea bargains, whether or not they suspect their client is guilty. However, whether a plea bargain is used or a full-blown trial is used, it still goes down on the client's record as a conviction. Offenders may not have agreed to the plea bargains knowing they may one day be subject to the three-strikes law.

  4. It is a violation of the 8th Amendment to the Constitution. The 8th Amendment of the Constitution prohibits the use of "cruel or unjust punishment" by the state. Many would argue that certain clients' prosecution under the law violates the amendment. If just one case violates the amendment, the law is unconstitutional and should be overturned.

  5. An arrest of someone with two convictions almost guarantees the cost and time of a trial. If a 2-time convicted felon is once again arrested, it's pretty much guaranteed that he will push for a trial. If he's guaranteed a 25-to-life sentence, what's the point of pleading guilty? It doesn't matter how many witnesses or how much physical evidence is available, the defendant will likely seek a trial. This adds more time and expense to an already overburdened court system.

  6. The law adds more criminals to an already crowded and expensive prison system. It is expensive to keep a person in jail for life. Prisons are overflowing from the massive growth in their populations. Adding more prisoners (who may not even deserve to be there) to this system just makes matters worse.

Related Links

Three Strikes and You're In
Supreme Court Upholds Three Strikes Law

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Written by:
Joe Messerli
Page Last Updated:
01/07/2012