If you’re facing your third felony charge you may need the assistance of an expert criminal defense attorney to avoid life in prison
In 1994, California became notorious for enacting what has been called one of the harshest laws in the country, the California three strikes law. Voters passed the law in response to a campaign launched by the grieving parents of victims killed by violent individuals with long criminal records. The idea was for this law to ensure that the most violent offenders stayed locked up for 25 to life after committing their third serious felony, but in practice the three strikes law often resulted in unfairly punitive sentencing for low-level felonies.
Three Strikes Law Backlash & Revision
Because of the way the statute was originally written, individuals were getting sentenced to 25 to life even when their third felonies were not violent or even particularly serious. Stanford Law School’s Three Strikes Project documented many instances of this problem, and also revealed that nearly 40 percent of three-strike lifers are mentally ill, compared to 16 percent of the general inmate population.
One famous case involved a 55-year-old man named Dale Curtis Gaines. Despite a clear history of mental retardation and mental illness, Gaines was sentenced to life based on three nonviolent felonies. The first two were for unarmed burglaries of empty homes where he stole very little of real value. The third felony was for receiving stolen computer equipment, and because his public defender failed to introduce evidence of his disabilities as a mitigating factor for sentencing, this minor, nonviolent crime earned him life in prison under the three strikes law.
Fortunately, the three strikes law was amended last year to ensure that only serious or violent third felonies will be considered grounds for giving a life sentence. The courts have been authorized to review the cases of thousands of inmates currently serving life sentences for low-level third offenses and resentence them more appropriately.
An Expert Criminal Defense Attorney is Still Needed
As the example of Dale Curtis Gaines shows, expert representation from a skilled criminal defense attorney is vital in helping individuals accused of third felonies navigate the troubled waters surrounding the three strikes law. Even though the law has been revised, there is still the potential for it to be applied unfairly if your defense attorney doesn’t explore all possible options for your defense. Be sure you hire an attorney who loves research like Dan E. Chambers if you want the best possible chance of avoiding life in prison on a third serious felony.