California's Three Strikes Law Purpose

What is the Intent of the Three Strikes Law? "The Three Strikes law makes clear the Legislature's intent 'to ensure longer prison sentences and greater punishment for those who commit a felony and have been previously convicted of serious and/or violent felony offenses.' ( 667, subd. (b).)" (People v. Trujillo (2006) 40 Cal.4th 165, 187.) "Under the three strikes law, defendants are punished not just for their current offense but for their recidivism. Recidivism in the commission of multiple felonies poses a danger to society justifying the imposition of longer sentences for subsequent offenses. " (People v. Cooper (1996) 43 Cal.App.4th 815, 823-824.) Recidivism is not defined in the Penal Code, "'but its common meaning is very clearly defined by Webster to mean "a tendency to relapse into a previous condition or mode of behavior; a repeated relapse into criminal or delinquent habits." '" (People v. McClanahan (1992) 3 Cal.4th 860, 867.The purpose of the "Three Strikes" law is to "ensure longer prison sentences and greater punishment for those who commit a felony and have been previously convicted of serious and/or violent felony offenses." (Pen. Code, 667, subd. (b).) If a defendant is convicted of a felony and has had one, two or more prior convictions that qualify as "strikes," the defendant will be sentenced for the current offense under the Three Strikes law. Although prior strikes most commonly are serious ( 1192.7, subd. (c)) or violent felonies ( 667.5, subd. (c)), the current conviction can be based on the commission of any felony. (People v. Terry (1996) 47 Cal.App.4th 329, 331-332.) If the defendant has one prior strike, the defendant is to receive a mandatory state prison sentence of twice the term otherwise provided. ( 667, subd. (e)(1).) If the defendant has two prior strikes, the defendant is to receive a mandatory indeterminate life sentence to state prison with the minimum term of 25 years. ( 667, subd. (2)(A)(ii).) Penal Code Section 1385, subdivision (a) allows a trial court to exercise its discretion to dismiss a strike in furtherance of justice. A defendant convicted of the requisite triggering second or third conviction is presumed to fall within the provisions of the Three Strikes law. (People v. Superior Court (Romero) (1996) 13 Cal.4th 497, 508.) The Three Strikes initiative was intended to restrict a trial court's discretion in sentencing repeat offenders, and thus not only establishes a sentencing norm, but carefully circumscribes the trial court's power to depart from this norm and requires the court to explicitly justify its decision to do so. (Id. at p. 528.) The law creates a strong presumption that any sentence conforming to these sentencing norms is both rational and proper. (People v. Carmony (2004) 33 Cal.4th 367, 376.) It is presumed that the defendant is within the spirit of the law under the Three Strikes law. (People v. Williams (1998) 17 Cal.4th 148, 161.) In order to dismiss a prior strike, the court must analyze "whether, in light of the nature and circumstances of his present felonies and prior serious and/or violent felony convictions, and the particulars of his background, character, and prospects, the defendant may be deemed outside the scheme's spirit, in whole or in part, and hence should be treated as though he had not previously been convicted of one or more serious and/or violent felonies." (People v. Williams, supra, 17 Cal.4th at p. 161.) Striking a prior serious felony conviction is an extraordinary exercise of discretion and is therefore reserved only for extraordinary circumstances. (People v. Philpot (2004) 122 Cal.App.4th 893, 905.) Only by extraordinary circumstances may a career criminal be deemed to fall outside the spirit of the Three Strikes sentencing scheme. (People v. Carmony, supra, 33 Cal.4th at p. 378.)