Recent Supreme Court Decision on Three Strikes Law: Decreasing the Non-Violent Prison Population

While the prison population increased over the last several decades according to the latest Pew Charitable Trust study on incarceration rates and costs from 1980 to 2013, which reveals a whopping “518” percent rise, the recent Supreme Court decision on a Minnesota case regarding the “three strikes law” for violent offenses may help to shorten sentences or at least avoid longer sentences.

One of the contributing factors to the Pew findings on the increased prison population over the last 43 years is the longer sentences imposed since the three strikes law took effect, the first introduced in Washington in 1993. The federal version of the law soon followed in the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. Since then, over half of the states in the nation have enacted similar three-strikes statutes.

In a “tough on crime” climate, three strikes laws of the 90s spread through the states in an attempt to deter repeat offenders by increasing the possible prison time significantly at the third conviction. Most three-strikes laws require mandatory minimum, often lengthy, prison sentences for the third offense by a convicted felon with two prior violent offenses. The federal statute specifies a “serious violent felony” such as murder, manslaughter robbery, and kidnapping among others. Each state, however, varies in language and terms but essentially includes mandatory minimum sentences significantly longer than those for felons coming to court without two strikes.

Since their enactment, controversy has simmered over the often unfair consequences of three-strikes laws, including 15 year or even longer minimum sentences for drug or gun possession convictions as the third strike. However, the recent Supreme Court decision striking one clause in the federal statute that allows for these unjust results, could end three-strikes lengthy sentences with respect to certain non-violent offenses.

While the long and short-term effects of the recent Supreme Court ruling are not yet fully known, changes to some state laws are certain. An experienced Minneapolis Criminal Defense Lawyer current with the changing laws is critical for anyone charged with a crime, and especially those charged with a felony; contact us for consultation on your charges.