The National Institute of Justice states that nearly 44% of offenders return to prison within the first year after release. Since the U.S. has some of the highest recidivism rates in the world, state governments across the country enacted laws to dissuade repeat offenders (otherwise known as career criminals, three-time offenders, or habitual offenders) from committing further violent crimes.
One example is the Florida “Three Strikes, and You’re Out” law. The law outlines mandatory prison sentences for those with three felony convictions. Below you’ll find all the information about Florida’s three strikes law.
Florida’s Three Strikes Law
Florida laws state that anyone with three violent felony convictions may face increased penalties for each of the felonies committed. Another name for the three strikes law is the “10-20-Life” law. Felony convictions must receive a minimum sentence of ten, twenty, or twenty-five years to life for specific serious felonies.
As it stands, here are the typical punishments for the three degrees of felony offenses outlined by Florida law:
- First-degree felony
- Up to 30 years in prison
- Fines of up to $10,000
- Second-degree felony
- Up to 15 years in prison
- Fines of up to $10,000
- Third-degree felony
- Up to five years in prison
- Fines of up to $5,000
However, upon receiving a third strike or third violent felony conviction, the judge can impose a mandatory minimum sentence of life imprisonment regardless of the crime. But, it’s important to note that this law only affects people who previously received felonies on two separate occasions. If law enforcement charges you with two felonies simultaneously, the law may not affect you on your third charge.
Regardless of the charges against you or how many prior convictions you have, it’s always best to seek legal advice from a reputable criminal defense lawyer to better understand the charges and penalties you face.
Types of Three Strikes Crimes
The principle behind the three strikes sentencing law is that certain violent felony crimes qualify as “strikes” on one’s criminal record. Crimes that typically count include:
- Aggravated child abuse
- Any felony offense involving a firearm, like a burglary, robbery, grand theft, or carjacking
- Assault or battery
- Murder or attempted murder
- Rape or sexual battery
- Voluntary manslaughter
If law enforcement arrests you for one of these violent crimes, whether it’s your first or repeat offense, you need to hire a criminal defense attorney. Failure to do so all but ensures you will receive a strike on your record. In addition, the state may also label you as a violent felony offender, further complicating your situation.
Florida’s Three Strikes Law and Traffic Crimes
The three strikes law also applies to any combination of felony motor vehicle offenses, such as drunk driving or driving under the influence (DUI).
For instance, if you receive a DUI after already receiving a conviction for a different felony involving a motor vehicle, you will qualify as a habitual offender. Example offenses include:
- Attempting to elude an officer
- Driving with a suspended license
- Fleeing the scene of a crime
- More than fifteen convictions for moving traffic offenses outlined in Florida Statute 322.27
After receiving a DUI, you need to identify whether this is your first offense or if your record has any other prior felony motor vehicle offenses. This is because getting three strikes of this nature will mean losing your driver’s license for five years.
You may already have a first offense and not know it. Conversely, you may think you have a first offense for a traffic charge that doesn’t count toward the three strikes law. For example, a common belief is that a reckless driving conviction constitutes a strike, but it doesn’t.
The Pros and Cons of the Three Strikes Law in Florida
The most significant benefit of the Florida three strikes law is that, in theory, it helps keep repeat offenders off the streets. There have been convictions that directly target recidivism, which helps make Florida residents and communities safer.
However, although crime rates in Florida continue to decline, data shows that the drop in crime may not be because of the three strikes law but an overall national decline in crime. If the law is not as effective as imagined, it may be a Band-Aid solution to a bigger problem: the social and economic factors that drive increases in crime. Thus, more data is necessary to establish the effectiveness of the law since Florida enacted it in 1999.
A significant downside to the three strikes law is money. Those who receive a life sentence are expensive for taxpayers because they live in costly facilities for the rest of their lives. There may be better ways to spend taxpayer money than simply locking away habitual offenders.
How Can a Defense Attorney Help?
Dealing with criminal charges, let alone felony charges for serious crimes, can be scary and intimidating. Plus, if the state labels you as a violent offender, the law forces the judge to assign mandatory minimum sentences for the crime, even if they would’ve considered granting leniency.
Luckily, you can work with a trustworthy lawyer to avoid a life sentence, especially if you already have a prior felony conviction.
When you build a solid attorney-client relationship, you know your attorney is in your corner and will fight to defend your case. Ideally, an attorney can help get your charges dropped or reduced to a misdemeanor with lesser prison terms.
Although the defense strategy varies from case to case, it’s not uncommon to explore whether law enforcement violated your rights during your arrest or failed to read you your Miranda rights. Criminal defense attorneys know several procedural violations can lead the judge to reduce or drop your life felony charges.
Get the Help You Need From an Experienced Attorney
The three strikes law in Florida can have a disastrous impact on your life when you don’t take felony charges against you seriously.
If you are facing a felony charge, get help now by scheduling your free consultation at the law firm of Mike G Law in Tampa, FL. Our team of experienced lawyers has a proven record of upholding the commitment to justice and protecting individual rights.