Understanding What Constitutes a “Serious” or “Violent” Felony Under California’s Three Strikes Law

If you already have a prior felony conviction in the state of California, and are charged with a second, third, or subsequent felony, it matters greatly if one or more of the felonies are regarded as “serious” or “violent” in the eyes of the law. This is because California has a “Three Strikes” law that applies to the sentencing of repeat felony offenders. Under the current incarnation of the law, conviction of three or more serious or violent felonies in the state is grounds for the imposition of a 25-years-to-life prison sentence. This rule, though still harsh, is a softening of the law in its pre-2012 form. Because of the reforms, certain individuals who are currently serving a lengthy prison sentence under the old law may be eligible for a sentence reduction. The purpose of this article is to explain what constitutes a violent or serious felony under California law. If you have been charged with a crime in California, contact an experienced California criminal defense attorney. For you future freedom, it is imperative that you mount the strongest possible defense of the charges against you.

“Serious” or “Violent” Felonies are “Strikes” Under California’s Three Strikes Law

California Penal Code Sections 1192.7c and 667.5c outline what constitutes a “serious” or “violent” felony in the state of California. As common sense dictates, crimes like murder and rape rise to the level of both “serious” and “violent.” Other “strike” felonies codified by statute include felonies in which the defendant personally brought about great bodily injury on the victim, felonies in which the defendant personally used a firearm, and felonies subject to the state’s “gang enhancement” sentencing law. The inclusion of these types of crimes on the “strike” list is hardly controversial. Other offenses on the list, however, are less obvious “strike” candidates.  Take for example, robbery and residential burglary.  When these crimes involve violence or cause great bodily injury to victims, it is no-brainer that they should be counted as “serious” and thereby as strikes.  But what about when burglary or robbery does not involve violence, or occurs when the residents of a home are not even present? Here, the law makes no distinction; these felonies are deemed “serious” just the same.

Drug Crimes are Among the Most Impacted by Reforms to California’s Three Strikes Law

Drug crimes, such as possession of a controlled substance, reflect an interesting and somewhat complex grey area in the reformed version of the state’s Three Strikes Law. Under the 2012 version of the law, for a drug-related third or subsequent felony offense to justify a 25-years-to-life mandatory sentence, the offense must included more than mere possession.  Specifically, the drug offense must involve possession for sale, transportation, or manufacturing. In such instances, the maximum penalty is proper.

If you have been charged with a second, third, or subsequent felony in the state of California, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to mount the strongest defense possible of the charges against you.