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Pa. Three Strikes Law Imposes Harsh Sentences on Repeat Violent Offenders

Violent Crime Charges

The Three Strikes Law is a significant feature of Pennsylvania’s criminal justice system. It mandates severe prison terms for repeat offenders convicted of specific violent crimes. This law aims to deter recidivism and promote public safety by providing for long periods of incarceration of individuals demonstrating a pattern of violent behavior. However, there are defensive strategies that can be aimed at avoiding its harsh effects.

This law, codified in 42 Pa. C.S. § 9714, applies solely to crimes of violence. Among the crimes listed in the statute are:

  • Murder
  • Manslaughter
  • Aggravated assault
  • Sexual assault
  • Kidnapping
  • Robbery

The law does not apply to non-violent offenses, such as drug or property crimes, with the exception that drug delivery resulting in death is deemed a crime of violence.

The law operates as follows:

  • First strike — A first conviction for a violent felony carries the standard sentencing guidelines associated with that specific offense.
  • Second strike — A defendant facing a second conviction for a violent crime faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and a maximum of 20 years, considerably higher than the typical sentence for the second offense itself.
  • Third strike — A third conviction for a violent offense carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years in prison and a maximum of 50 years, although a judge has the authority to impose a life sentence without possibility of parole in justifiable circumstances.

The most critical aspect of the Three Strikes Law is the restriction it places on judges. In instances where the law applies, judges are obligated to impose the mandatory minimum sentences, regardless of the specific circumstances of the case. This eliminates the judge’s ability to consider potentially mitigating factors that might warrant a lighter sentence.

Given the substantial penalties that come with the Three Strikes Law, securing skilled legal representation becomes paramount. An experienced criminal defense attorney can employ various strategies to potentially avoid the law’s consequences:

  • Investigating the charges and evidence — A thorough investigation is essential. Your lawyer will meticulously examine the charges and evidence, including witness statements, police reports and any procedural errors or other weaknesses in the prosecution’s case.
  • Examining prior convictions — Not all prior offenses necessarily fall under the law. Your lawyer will explore if there are grounds to challenge the validity of past convictions, potentially removing them from the “strike” count.
  • Negotiating with the prosecution — Depending on the specific circumstances, it may be possible to enter a plea to an offense that avoids triggering the Three Strikes Law’s harsh mandatory minimums. Such a plea bargain usually requires making a strong presentation of mitigating factors and of your amenability to rehabilitation.

If you have been charged with a crime that could trigger the Three Strikes Law, retaining a qualified Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney with knowledge of the law’s intricacies and of the relevant court policies and procedures can make a major difference in the outcome of your case.

The Law Offices of David Jay Glassman in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania aggressively defends clients charged with federal drug offenses and has earned a reputation for obtaining downward departures from the sentencing guidelines. To arrange for a consultation, call 215-563-7100 or contact us online.