“Three strike laws” have been implemented in many states, including Texas, in an effort to keep habitual offenders away from the general public and reduce violent crimes. If you have two 3rd degree felony convictions in Texas and are arrested for a third, you will be facing stiffer sentencing penalties if you are found guilty a third time under Texas’ three strikes law. Mandatory sentences for a third conviction for a 3rd degree or higher felony can range from 25 years to life in jail and up to $10,000 in fines.
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What Three Strikes Means
If you’re familiar with the game of baseball you’ll recognize the meaning of “three strikes” — once a batter has three strikes against him, he’s considered out. The three strikes laws are similar. Each conviction for a 3rd degree or higher felony is considered to be a “strike” against the defendant. The sentences for the first two strikes may not be that harsh. However, upon a third conviction, or strike, the three strikes laws apply during the sentencing.
Third strike sentencing guidelines apply in both state and federal courts. They only apply in 3rd degree or higher felony convictions. Misdemeanor and state jail felony convictions don’t count as strikes.
Is Three Strikes Sentencing Constitutional?
It might seem that the three strikes laws violate the 8th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which forbids “cruel and unusual punishment.” Convictions for non-violent felonies, such as theft or fraud, are treated the same as violent crimes. Most people don’t have a problem with a violent criminal who has committed murder, rape, etc. spending their lives behind bars and away from the public. But what about locking somebody away for life for felony crimes of theft and fraud, where no one was injured and the damages were a hundred dollars or less?
Take the case of Rummel vs. Estelle (Texas Department of Corrections), for example. In 1964, William James Rummel was received a felony conviction for credit card fraud totaling $80 and was sentenced to three years behind bars. In 1969, Rummel received a second felony conviction, this time for passing a forged check in the amount of $28.36. Rummel’s third felony conviction came in 1973 when he refused to return $120.75 received as payment for repairs of an air conditioning unit and was convicted of felony theft. Normally this would result in a punishment of 2 – 10 years in prison. However, since this was Rummel’s third felony conviction, he was sentenced to life in prison.
Rommel argued that his life conviction was unconstitutional under the 8th Amendment. The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court ruled against Rommel, upholding his life sentence and affirming that three strikes laws did not violate the constitutional prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment of criminals.
Frequently Asked Questions About Criminal Defense
A few tips for when you are choosing a criminal defense attorney:
• Don’t choose the lowest priced option. Less expensive lawyers charge less because they work in higher volume. This means you may end up talking to assistants instead of talking to the lawyer themselves. You may also find yourself waiting at the courtroom, only to have your court dates reset. This is because they can charge you by the reset.
• What is their experience like? Where were they trained? Do they have experience with your type of case?
• Have They Tried a Lot of Cases in Front of Juries? What is their success rate in the court room? Some defense lawyers shy away from courtroom appearances, which puts them at a disadvantage in negotiations.
To find a person guilty of a criminal charge in the United States, you must prove they are guilty ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’. This means that if a juror has even a little bit of concern that a defendant may be innocent, they are required by law to vote ‘not-guilty’.
But reasonable doubt only applies in criminal cases. If a crime resulted in property damage, personal injury, or a death, you may find yourself the target of a civil legal action. In a civil case, the standard is “a preponderance of evidence’, not ‘beyond a reasonable doubt.’
Statute of Limitations, or the time limit a prosecutor has to file criminal charges, is different for every crime, usually depending on the severity of the crime itself. The more serious the crime, the longer the limit is going to be. For some crimes like murder, manslaughter, and human trafficking, there is no statute of limitations.
Some examples of crimes with limits:
• Misdemeanors are usually 2 years
10 years: forgery, sexual assault, and arson
7 years: money laundering, medicaid fraud
5 years: most types of theft, kidnapping, burglary, insurance fraud
3 years: felony assault and drug trafficking
Get Help from a Houston Assault Lawyer
If you been convicted of two counts of felony assault and have been arrested and charged for a third, it’s important to retain the services of an experienced Houston assault lawyer like Lisa Shapiro Strauss. Lisa’s legal knowledge and expertise can help get your charges reduced or even dropped. No matter what crime you’ve been accused of, you still have rights, and they need to be protected. If you have been charged with a misdemeanor or felony assault charge in Houston or Harris County, schedule a free initial consultation with leading Houston criminal defense attorney Lisa Shapiro Strauss to discuss your case.