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Three Strikes Law:

Author: Amisha Tandon pursuing BA LLB (Hons) from Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, Delhi.


The Three Strives Law significantly expands the prison sentences of a person convicted felonies and who has been previously convicted of a violent or serious felony, and limits the ability of these offenders to receive a punishment other than imprisonment. As it can be said that “YOU ARE FREE TO CHOOSE BUT YOU ARE NOT FREE FROM THE CONSEQUENCE OF YOUR CHOICE”. When an individual is guilty of his crime, he shall be treated in accordance with severity of the crime which he has committed. Under the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, 1994, the “Three Strikes” statute provides for compulsory life imprisonment if a convicted felon: has been convicted in a federal court of “serious violent felony” and has two or previous conviction in federal or state court, at least one of which is serious violent felony. The enhancement in the prison sentence can have a significant impact on criminal defendant.

The roots of this statute have been traced by the game i.e. Baseball in which there is a batter or hitter against whom if three strikes are recorded then he is stroked out. Acquiring the sense from the game play, this law requires an individual who is guilty of committing crime and convicted for two or more serious or violent felony, to serve life imprisonment. Advocates of severe captivity policies claimed, that enactment of such measure has declined the crime rate nationwide.


The Concept of Serious Violent Felony:


In order to better understand , when three strikes law applies , it is necessary to know what serious violent felonies are, statute defined it as following which includes: Murder , Manslaughter, Sex offences, Kidnapping ,Robbery and any offence punishable by 10 years or more which includes an element of the use of force or involves a significant risk of force. The statute specifically precludes some felonies, such as unarmed robbery or arsons which posed no menace to human life. However, in cases of three strikes, the burden of proof lies on defendant to prove that, the crime committed by him didn’t include threat to use of dangerous weapon or threat of death or bodily injury. In other words, this can be counted as strike, unless it is proved otherwise by defendant.

History of Three Strikes Law:

In 1990s era, there was a rapid increase in crime rate of US, which provoked the Federal Government to take stringent measures to restrain criminal offences. One of such measures was the enactment “THREE STRIKES LAW” across the nation. The Three Strikes Law is also known as “offender law” which was executed on March7, 1994. It is a body ran under the United States Justice Departments Anti Violence Strategy. It was launched by the father of an eighteen year old girl who was murdered by a man in 1992 with an extensive criminal record. Due to severity of crime and increasing crime rate, Government introduced this law as an official law in 1993, where it was introduced by Washington voters. Then in 1994, California passed this law with support of its majority of voters. California holds this as biggest penal experiment in implications of “Three Strike Law” in modern American history due to its provisions like 25 years of prison sentence and also doubling of nominal sentence of second strike offenders. In California panel code 1192, it is stated that if crime happened and if the offender has violently or brutally done any crime previously also then they would be served by life imprisonment. In some states, these offenders are known as ‘persistent offender or habitual offender’ and this activity is used to known as “Three strikes and you’re out”.


Implementation Issues of Three Strikes Law:


The Three Strikes statute for offenders who have committed the number of violent or serious crimes rarely drawn criticism. Concerns about the fairness, proportionality and constitutionality of the law have been raised when an offender is sent to prison for 25 years for shoplifting or some other minor property crime. It is noted that 25 year sentence for a shoplifting crime is the same sentence which is given to offender who committed crime like murder. Due to this defect in the law, America became house of the world largest prisoners even beating Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. Long sentencing for relatively minor offences, amounts to cruel and unusual punishment, which became barred by the EIGHTH AMENDMENT in 2012 and adjusted to declare that third strike only if it was very serious and violent felony.

The case of LEANDRO ANDRADE became point of convergence in the arguments over constitutionality of California’s three strikes law. Andrade was convicted of two counts strike of petty theft for shoplifting of total nine videotapes from two Kmart stores. The value of stolen videotapes amounted to $153.54. Under California’s law, a petty theft charges usually with 6 months in county jail and a fine up to $1,000. Andrade, who was a heroin addict, had a string of burglary, theft and, drug convictions on his criminal record. The prosecutor charged him with two counts of felony theft and a jury convicted him on both counts.


These separate convictions, along with a first degree burglary conviction, triggered the three strikes law, as the two thefts were treated as separate crimes, the three strikes law applied to both charges, leading to two consecutive terms of 25 years to life in prison. Andrade could not apply for parole until he served 50 years in prison, at which time he would be 87 years old.


The California courts upheld this sentence as proportionate. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Andrade’s case was unconstitutional because it was grossly disproportionate. Although the California law was unconstitutional as applied, the Ninth circuit refused to hold that the “three strikes and you’re out” was generally unconstitutional in this case.


Relevance of Three Strikes Law in India:


Crimes stands in various forms, which are generally categorized on the basis of crime by location and crime over time, and three strikes law states punishment for crimes over time. In India, talking about crime over time, murder rate, kidnapping and cognizable crimes have increased drastically. Moreover, rape has been declared as the most common crime committed in India.


With the ever expanding crime rates in India and the sympathetic or lenient laws pertaining to punishments to criminals, only add on to more rusty and dusty files in offices with no fair justice given to these victims of these crimes. The only thing which is seen that, criminals roam freely and whereas victims Suffer. Today , there are as many as examples present to tell how judicial system and legislature are sympathetic towards criminals .One such classic example is NIRBHAYA RAPE CASE which jolted the country to its roots and existence of constitution which guarantees freedom to safety to its citizens, irrespective of its gender ,being in question till 7 years. Similarly , a recent HYDRABAD RAPE- MURDER CASE has also been witnessed by the country like Nirbhaya’s case ,but the justice has not been delayed by judicial system because it didn’t came in their hands, as all four rapists were encountered by police.


The Indian Government must realize the need of an hour and must implicate serious action to cease such crimes. The Government has to understand that “IF SOMEONE SHOWS THEIR TRUE COLOUR, THERE IS NO NEED TO REPAINT THEM”. In a country where the crime rate increases more than literacy rate, implementation of “Three Strikes Law” could be a hope for country where animals are safer than women. This law ensures to eradicate such criminals who have no fear of constitution or law. Law has to stop looking criminals with sympathetic eyes as, once a criminal is convicted for 25years of prison then other criminals will be forced to even think 100 times of doing crime at second strike stage because next is knockout for them, with no way of relief to them once the sentence has been declared, as it is rightly evident that “IF SOMEONE MAKES THE SAME MISTAKE TWICE, THE SECOND TIME HE MAKES IT, IT’S NO LONGER A MISTAKE, IT’S A CHOICE”. This kind of law, India needs to make, so that the law system can become unbiased, fair and with prompt justice to be served to victims of serious or violent felony.


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