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Felonies: Three strikes and you're out

Sometimes a person in Washington is convicted of a felony more than once. However, such convictions can majorly impact a person's life. The federal Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 instituted what is known as the "Three Strikes" rule. Under this rule, if a person has a federal conviction relating to a serious violent felony and has two or more prior federal or state convictions in which one or more is a serious violent felony, then he or she must be sentenced to life in prison.

Serious violent felonies include a number of different types of crimes. While people may automatically understand that crimes such as murder, manslaughter or sex crimes are violent felonies, other crimes that are considered serious violent felonies under the three strikes law include kidnapping, robbery and any other crime carrying a penalty of at least 10 years and which involves the use or significant risk of force.

However, crimes that do not threaten another person's life, for example, unarmed robbery or arson, do not fall under the three strikes law. That being said, the accused carries the burden of proving that the crime he or she is accused of did not fall under the three strikes law, because he or she didn't threaten someone with a dangerous weapon and there wasn't any other action that could've constituted a threat to the life of another or that could have constituted the threat of causing an injury.

States have also enacted their own three strikes laws, and in fact, Washington was the first state in the union to do so in 1993. These laws are meant to prevent repeat offenses by the same persons. However, state law varies on what the definition of "strike" is and how many strikes it takes to receive a mandatory life sentence.

It is debatable whether federal and state three strikes laws truly reduce recidivism. It may also be possible to argue that such laws are unconstitutional. However, in at least one case involving the three strikes law in California, the United States Supreme Court found that the law was constitutional as the penalty was not grossly disproportionate to the crime. However, this should not dissuade those who are facing life in prison under the three-strikes law. With the right help, defendants can develop a solid legal strategy to challenge such a sentence, so that they are not unduly convicted.

Source:  , "'Three Strikes' Sentencing Laws," accessed Jan. 28, 2018

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