Understanding the Basics of California’s Three Strikes Sentencing Law

Those outside of California may think of the state as having a liberal government that goes “soft on crime,” but California created one of the most severe criminal sentencing laws in the country in 1994 when voters passed into law the infamous “Three Strikes” law. While the Three Strikes Law has been softened due to Proposition 36, voted into law in 2012, California’s sentencing laws are still extremely strict for repeat felony offenders.

Second-Time Felons Face Double Sentences

Although many commentators focus on the severe implications for defendants facing a third felony conviction, the Three Strikes law also affects those defendants facing a second felony conviction. Under the Three Strikes law, a defendant who has been convicted of a second felony – regardless of whether it is a violent or serious felony – can be sentenced to twice the regular sentence for that felony, so long as the first felony was considered a “serious felony.” Thus, even if you are convicted of a non-violent felony as your second felony, you can face a doubled sentence.


The list of what are considered serious felonies are set out by statute and can be found here, but generally they include felonies involving potentially deadly violence, crimes towards children, sexual crimes, and robbery, among others.  

Third-Time Felons Face 25 Years to Life

When a defendant faces a third felony conviction, then the infamous “three strikes and you’re out” aspect of the law comes into play, with third-time felony convicts facing a mandatory 25 years to life in prison without the possibility of parole prior to 25 years being served.


Initially, the rule was similar to the rule for second-time felons, in that any type of felony could result in this harsh outcome (including non-violent theft and drug offenses), so long as the previous felonies were serious felonies. This was changed in 2012 by Proposition 36 which changed the rule to say that the third offense must also be a serious or violent felony.

The Importance of Experienced Defense Counsel

Because of these harsh, life-altering outcomes in felony matters, it is critical that those individuals facing successive felony charges work with experienced criminal defense counsel to present a strong defense to all charges and/or to work with prosecutors to reduce the charges to those which would not trigger the Three Strikes sentencing requirements.

Defending Your Freedom in You CA Felony Case

If you have been charged with a felony, or are under investigation for a felony, it is imperative that you obtain experienced criminal defense, especially if you have previously been convicted of felonies in California.

At the Law Offices of Omar Gastelum and Associates, PLC, our experienced criminal defense attorneys will work with you from the very start to reach a positive outcome: a dropped investigation, a dismissal of charges, a not guilty verdict, a reduced sentence, or an alternative treatment program. Contact the Law Offices of Omar Gastelum and Associates, PLC today to get your best defense now.