What’s the Best Way to Defend a Third-Strike Case?

Posted by Ronald D. HeddingMay 12, 2023

The California three strikes law has put many people in prison since the early 1990s when it was enacted. It's meant to remove those career offenders who continue to get convicted and commit crimes year after year.

Third-Strike Case in California

When you have a third strike case, you face a minimum of 25 to life if convicted.  These cases are severe, and I've handled many of them since I've been practicing since the California three strikes law existed. One way to deal with these cases is to break them down piece by piece. First, we have to look at your prior strikes. How old are they?

If they are remote and they were a long time ago, that's a good reason to be able to get them struck so they can't be used against you. If you're a third striker, they will look at both strikes.  Sometimes people have more than two strikes. 

Then, to get a resolution, we've got to get all of the strikes stricken to keep you out of a lengthy prison sentence, or we can get one stricken, depending on the facts and circumstances we're discussing.

Different Defense Strategies

Other ways to be successful in a three strikes case include the following:

  • Win the underlying offense;
  • Get the case reduced to a misdemeanor
  • Attack or negotiate a violent felony;
  • Try to get the prosecutors to strike those priors.

If you're charged with a case, you've got strike priors alleged against you, over a million-dollar bail, and facing 25 to life; one way to win that case is to defend the open case successfully.  Then the strikes don't matter.

Another way to be successful is to get the case reduced to a misdemeanor.  The California three strikes law does not apply to misdemeanors. It only applies to felony cases. 

Also, the legislature lawmakers have become helpful, and even the voters in some areas of the three strikes law, so we must evaluate if any of that helps you. 

One area that is undoubtedly helpful is that the third strike must be a serious or violent felony for the 25 to life to be triggered. So it can't just be a felony like it used to be.

What's Happening with the Three-Strikes Law in Los Angeles?

This is a good question because, as most people know, the current district attorney for Los Angeles County has taken the position that the California three strikes law is unconstitutional and should not be used against criminal defendants. 

So, we see that many courthouses are not using people's prior strikes against them.  In other words, they're not alleging them in the criminal complaints.  But some rogue prosecutors are filing those strikes against people. It is a violent equal protection law where some courts file the charges filing prior strikes while others are not.

You want to get an attorney with much experience dealing with the three strikes law and, specifically, many experiences dealing with the politics behind Los Angeles criminal courts.  Determining how to avoid those prior strikes is crucial because they can double or triple a person's sentence.

Many people don't understand that LA's district attorney's office is still filing charges that are strikes against people.  It's two separate things.  One is the actual prior convictions that are mainly not being used against people, but another is that if you commit a robbery, they will still charge you. 

They will not charge crimes that are strikes.  So, if you plead guilty to that Penal Code 211 PC robbery, you have a strike on your record.  Where the rub is, is when somebody commits a new offense.  For example, let's say it's a robbery, and they have a prior robbery conviction.  That's going to be a second-strike case.

What's happening, for the most part, is they're not using that prior robbery against you.  You still have it.  It's still there, but the prosecutors are not using that to double up your sentence.  They can certainly still make it difficult for you.  

Negotiation with the Prosecutor

So, in addition to looking at the open case and seeing if we can attack that or negotiate that, we'll also look at the strike priors and try to get the prosecutors to strike one or more of those priors. 

We can also file a Romero motion with the judge in charge of the case to get the judge to strike one or more priors.  So, it is a multi-prong attack when you're defending a third-strike case, and you need an attorney with much experience in dealing with these cases.

I've been doing this long and practicing since the three-strikes law existed. So, if you or a loved one is charged with a third strike case, you need a great attorney.  You need someone who has much experience. So, pick up the phone now.  Ask for a meeting with Ron Hedding.