Author: Komal Sabhnani, B.A. LL.B (H) 2019-2024, Indore Institute of Law
The study is done in the form of a non-doctrinal research, where the problem is systematized, rectified and clarified by sources from authoritative texts. The study took a qualitative research approach. The information: primary as well as secondary information is gathered through journals, articles, research paper, study articles, survey results and newspaper. They are analyzed, interpreted and presented in narrative form.
When a person is convicted of a crime, he or she shall be dealt in accordance with the severity of the crime committed. Crime over here includes from petty theft, robbery, sexual offence, murder, bribery and any other malformed crime which is association with the aforementioned examples.1990s era had seen a high increase in crime rate in US, which triggered the Federal Government to take stringent measures to curb the criminal offenses. One such provision was the implementation of “Three Strikes Law” across the nation. The essence of this law could be drawn back to the most famous game of baseball where the batter or hitter against whom three strikes are recorded “strikes out”.
Deriving the meaning from the game, this law needs a person guilty of executing a felony and two or more serious convictions to serve a life sentence. It is noticed that with the initiation of such provisions, crime rates have declined nationwide. Advocates of severe confinement policies have claimed that “three strikes” law is responsible for this decline.
The “three-strikes law” presently continues in nearly 20 different countries. It was launched by the father of an 18 year old girl who was murdered by a man in 1992 with an extensive criminal record. Due to the harshness of the offence and the expansion in crime rate, government came up with this law as an official law later in 1993.California holds the highest record when it comes to the implication of “three-stakes law”, also called as the enormous penal experiment of its type in modern American history due its differentiated provisions like the widely advertised 25 years of life imprisonment, but also doubling of nominal sentence for many second-strike offenders.
Over the years, this statute has faced some serious controversies and criticisms, one of them being that the third strike need not be a conviction for violent or serious felony. Any conviction included even a non-violent crime to be sentenced for 25 years jail. Due to this fault in the law, America became the house of the world largest prisoners even beating Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. Later in 2012 , the statute was adjusted to declare third strike only if it was a very violent or serious offence.
When a person is convicted of a crime, he or she must be dealt in respect with the intensity of the CRIME committed. The crime may include theft, robbery, bribery, murder or any such aforementioned crime. The Three Strikes Laws or Habitual Offender Laws are those laws which require both a FELONY and two other previous CONVICTIONS to serve a mandatory life imprisonment and thus limits the ability of these offenders to receive a penalty other than life imprisonment. The main aim of such laws is to increase the level of punishment for those who have been committed more than two serious crimes. In the United States, Three-Strikes Laws were first brought up on 7th of March, 1994 and from then the laws are the parts of the US Justice Department‘s Anti-Violence Strategy. The strikes in the “Three Strikes Laws” are referred to the strike out in a baseball game, wherein a batter against whom three strikes are recorded strikes out.
Twenty-eight countries have implemented some or the other forms of three-strike laws. person accused under such laws is referred to in a few states (notably Connecticut and Kansas) as a “persistent offender“, while Missouri uses the unique term “prior and persistent offender“. In most jurisdictions, only crimes at the felony level qualify as serious offenses; however, misdemeanor and/or wobbler offenses can qualify for application of the three-strikes law in California, whose harsh application has been the subject of controversy.
In the 90’s era, the crimes were drastically increasing in the United States of America because of which the government had to bring certain strict rules and regulations to curb such increasing crimes. And among those strict actions one was the “THREE STRIKES LAWS”, which meant three felonies and you’re serving life sentence or sentence of up to 25 years and also, there is severe punishment for the second knockout as there won’t be any other chance after that. By this step, the rate of crime declined in the entire state, most of the nations require 3 serious crimes to be committed for the compulsory sentence.
The law is applicable in nearly 20 states, initially the campaign of three strikes was launched by the father of a young woman aged 18 years, who was killed by a man who had an extensive criminal record, and the law didn’t come into force until after 1993 abduction and murder of a 12-year-old girl. The first step was taken in 1993, it was approved by the voters of the Washington and the “Three-Strikes Laws” was passed. In 1994, California passed the same law, where majority of the voters supported the law. In California it was first came by the name “three strikes and you’re out”. In California panel code 1192, it is mentioned that if the said crime happens, if one commits three violent or brutal lawful offences, they are referred for life imprisonment. They are known as “persistent offender” in some States. It was the biggest penal experiment of its modern American history due to its differentiated provisions and most importantly the doubling of nominal sentences for many second-strike offenders.
The roots of this law could be referred to the game of baseball where the batter against whom the three strikes are recorded “strikes out”. Similarly, the law requires a person guilty of committing a felony and 2 two or more serious convictions to serve a life imprisonment term. The term felony refers to committing any serious crime including residential robbery, kidnapping, sex offenses, and crimes involving explosive devices or attempts to commit any of those offenses.
WHAT DOES THE LAW REQUIRE?
The “THREE STRIKES LAWS” has three of the essential elements, which are to be fulfilled for the application of the law in a particular case:
- It requires both and extreme furious felony,
- to previous convictions to carry out and
- compulsory life punishment in prison.
- Some states require at least three serious offences for the mandatory sentence to be passed. The type of crimes which are referred as ‘furious’ comprises of: kidnapping, murder, sexual offences, aggravated assault and robbery. The law mentions felonies such as- unarmed arsons or robbery, as they are not a threat to someone’s life.
- The respondent has to prove that he hasn’t committed any of the crimes which involved weapons or could cause bodily injury. In this sort of a situation, such offences would not be counted as a crime in the “three-strikes laws”.
WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF THE LAW?
The main aim is to increase the punishment/penalty of those offenders who are convicted of more than two serious offences. This law exclusively deals with the furious and serious offences. It focuses on expanding the punishment of the accused person who is guilty of felony and is priorly convicted of two or more than two grave felonies.
It restricts the extent of these guilty parties to get a penalty other than a lifelong imprisonment. It anticipates the judicial courts to sentence the guilty persons for three or more serious offences, to a significantly longer sentence all together, than he would usually put in to each one by one.
ENACTMENT BY THE STATES
Following states have implemented the three strikes laws:
- The very first state was New York, which had brought up a felon statute since 1797. North Carolina too had a law of felons since 1967, later it was amended in 1994 and now it includes a third conviction for any furious felony which would result in life sentence without parole. Maryland also had a habitual felony statute since 1975, further it was amended in 1994 and brought up a fourth conviction making it to a mandatory life sentence. Alabama also had a habitual felony statute for serious offences since 1977, which included a mandatory life imprisonment for three or more convictions. Delaware has had a three strikes law since 1973. Texas has since 1952; a three strikes law along with a compulsory life imprisonment. In Rummel v. Estelle (1980), the US Supreme Court upheld Texas’s statute, which arose from a case involving a refusal to repay $120.75 paid for air conditioning repair that was, depending on the source cited, either considered unsatisfactory or not performed at all, where the defendant had been convicted of two prior felony convictions, and where the total amount involved from all three felonies was around $230. Similarly, in 1993 in Washington and in 1994 in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, New Mexico, North Carolina, Virginia, Louisiana, Wisconsin, and Tennessee.
Georgia has a “two strikes” law, also known as the “seven deadly sins” law, which makes the life sentence without parole for two or more convictions mandatory. South Carolina also has a “two strikes” law for crimes known as a “most serious felonies” whereas, the “three strikes” law applies to “serious offences” which include many other violent along with even serious non-furious felonies. Two convictions or three convictions under these provisions or any combination of these will automatically result in an imprisonment of life without parole. The South Carolina “two strikes” law is similar to Georgia’s seven-deadly-sins law.
Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee are the only states in the United States that have “two strikes laws” for the most serious furious felonies, such as murder, rape, aggravated robbery, etc. and they all lead to a compulsory life sentence without parole for a conviction of any such crimes a second time around.
In spite of all the features, this law has faced a number of criticisms. The three main criticisms amongst a number of criticisms are:
- The “third strike” should not be a conviction for furious and serious crimese., any conviction involving even a non-violent crime to be punished with a imprisonment of 25 years. Because of this provision, the USA became the hub of prisoners in the world beating Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. But later in 2012, the law was changed and it stated the third strike only if it was an extreme violent or serious felony.
- It somehow contradicts or obstructs the framework of the court and blocks the defendants who must be detained. Being in jail for such a long duration would decrease the chances for the trial and that of a fair trial. Therefore, the probability of a lifetime incarnation would be formed.
- It also opposed the faith in rehabilitation and it can be proved as these laws encouraged punishments in place of healing and striking down of the law reunites them with their families and would increase the opportunities to change themselves.
- Sometimes prosecutors evaded the law by falsely accusing the arrests as parole violations rather than new offences, or by charging for the misdemeanour crimes when a felony charge would be justified. Likewise, there is potential for witnesses to refuse to testify, and juries to refuse to convict, if they want to keep a defendant from receiving a life sentence; this can introduce disparities in punishments, defeating the goal of treating third-time offenders uniformly.
- Also, the law was created to prevent crime but there was no decrease in the rate of crime.
STATE LAWS AND THREE STRIKES SENTENCING CONTROVERSIES
The State of Washington was the first to implement a “Three Strikes Law” in 1993. After that, more than half of the states, along with the federal government, have formed similar laws. The primary concern of such laws is the containment of Recidivism. California’s law is considered the most far-reaching and most often used by some of the states, although it was amended in 2012. Amongst the states, there’s a sufficient amount of variety in how these laws are made up, either in how a “strike” is defined and how many strikes are required. South Carolina, for example, provides for two strikes for the “most serious offenses.”
Three strikes laws have been the subject of extensive debate over whether they’re effective. Defendants sentenced to long prison terms under these laws have also sought to challenge these laws as unconstitutional. For instance, one defendant was found guilty of stealing $150 worth of video tapes from two California department stores. The defendant had prior convictions, and pursuant to California’s three strikes law, the judge sentenced the defendant to 50 years in prison for the theft of the video tapes. The defendant challenged his conviction before the U.S. Supreme Court in Lockyer v. Andrade (2003), but the Court upheld the constitutionality of the law, finding that it didn’t violate the “gross disproportionality principle.”
RELEVANCE OF “THREE-STRIKES LAW” IN INDIA
In India, crimes can exist in so many forms, which are classified on the basis of the seriousness of the crime. Over the period of time, the rate of murder has increased by 7% as compared to previous statics and kidnapping by 47%, also rape has been declared as the most common crime committed in India. With the ever increasing crime rates in India and the lenient laws pertaining to the punishment given to such criminals, only add on to more rusty and dusty files in offices with no fair justice given to the victims of these crimes. Criminals roam around with no fear, whereas the victimizer suffers. One such classic example is the Nirbhaya rape case which shook the country to its roots and which still questions the existence of the Constitution that guarantees freedom to safety to its citizens, irrespective of their gender, but fail miserably in implementing.
The Government must realize the need of the hour and must implicate serious action to put a stop end to such crime. In a country where the crime rates increase more than literacy rates, implementation of “Three strikes law” could be a hope for this country where animals are safer than women. As the surveys and data show, most of the times, the criminal is known to the victim and also has a list of crimes committed prior. This law promises to eradicate such criminals who have no fear of law or constitution. Once a rapist has been convicted for 25 years, other criminals will be forced to think 100 times in the second strike stage because next is “knockout”, with no way out for them once the sentence has been declared. Such is the promise of this law, which is fair, unbiased and believes in prompt justice to be delivered for the serious or violent felony committed. The three strike laws in India can be that promissory remedy which would change the view of Judiciary in the eyes of people.
As the rate of crime increased in today’s time, the need was felt to introduce a law that was so strict that people would think twice before committing any crime, so the three strikes law was introduced in the United States of America. Considering the context of India, after seeing the increase of crimes there should be a law like this which would create fear among the criminals. After seeing the features of the law, there were many criticisms faced by the law as it was believed that this law is unfair and many people will be in jail serving till the end and that is unfair for the trial. Also, it is said that it violates the framework of the court, and striking the law down would give a chance to convicts to meet their family and do well in the future.
 A FELONY is a crime regarded in the US and many other judicial systems as more serious than a misdemeanour (or a minor wrongdoing)
 United States Justice Department
 Rummel v. Estelle, 445 U.S. 263 (1980), (sometimes erroneously cited as Rummel v. Estell)
 Recidivism is a tendency to lapse into a previous pattern of behavior, especially a pattern of criminal habits. Recidivism means the rearrest, reconviction, or reincarceration of former inmates.
 Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63 (2003)