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What Is the Three Strikes Law?

The Three Strikes Law in Texas

The Three Strikes Law is a term that many people have heard in reference to court cases or felony convictions. This term is derived from baseball, where a batter is considered out if he misses three pitches. In the court system, the three strikes refer to felony convictions. If a person is convicted of three felony offenses, they can automatically be give a severe mandatory sentence. This sentence usually calls for 25 years to life in prison.

This type of law first gained notoriety in California, where it has been both challenged and upheld. Similar laws have been enacted in many other states, including Texas.

History of the Texas Three Strikes Law

Although many people associate the Three Strikes Law with California, Texas has had a similar law on the books since 1952. Under the Texas law, a person who has been convicted of three separate felony crimes can be given a mandatory life sentence.

The law is intended to prevent repeat offenders from remaining free to commit additional crimes. Essentially, the law was enacted from the viewpoint that some offenders show their inability or unwillingness to reform by continuing to commit serious offenses. As such, those offenders can be locked away rather than continually rehabilitated and released.

These kinds of laws have a long history. Repeat offender laws go back over a hundred years but the first modern Three Strikes Law was passed in Washington D.C. in 1993. California followed suit a year later by passing a similar law in 1994.

Three Strikes Laws apply to felony offenses in most cases. For example, a person who has three separate convictions for shoplifting a few inexpensive items will usually not be given a life sentence. However, this law has generated some serious controversy due to the sentences it can impose on nonviolent offenders.

Controversy and Challenges

Three Strikes Laws have been a significant point of contention for lawyers and defendants, especially in California. Some people claim that these laws are ineffective and that they unfairly punish nonviolent or petty offenders. One famous case like this was Lockyer v. Andrade in California.

In 1995, a man named Leandro Andrade stole a few videotapes from a store. He was caught and charged with theft. He had a long criminal history including previous theft charges. California law allows a repeat theft conviction to be treated as a misdemeanor or felony and the court charged Andrade with felony theft. Because he had two previous felony convictions, Andrade was given a mandatory 25 years to life sentence. At that time, the California Three Strikes Law did not require the third strike to be a serious or violent felony. Andrade appealed his case on the grounds of cruel and unusual punishment but the court denied his appeal.

In 2012, California passed proposition 36, which required that the third strike for a repeat offender must be a serious or violent crime to trigger a mandatory 25-to-life sentence. The law had been widely criticized for putting away nonviolent offenders and drastically increasing the prison population.

However, at this time, Texas has made no such amendment.

Legal Representation

A person who has been charged with a third felony in Texas needs to find good legal representation right away. There’s no time to waste when a potential life sentence is on the line. A defense attorney may be able to use evidence, witness statements and strong arguments to show that the defendant did not actually commit a felony or is only guilty of a lesser misdemeanor offense.

If this strategy persuades the jury, the defendant might avoid a life sentence. Receiving time behind bars is not an outcome that anyone desires but the difference between a mandatory life sentence and a few years in jail with the chance for an appeal is very significant. Consulting with an experienced defense attorney is the best way to prepare a legal defense.


If you or someone you know is facing a third strike, take legal action now. Attorney Matthew D. Sharp can help protect your rights. Contact his office today at (713) 868-6100.

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