Criminal Defense Blog

How do defendants on appeal benefit from three strikes reform?

In November of 2012, California voters passed Proposition 36 known as “the Three Strikes Reform Act of 2012.” Proposition 36 made it so that a defendant with two prior strikes who commits a felony offense will no longer be sentenced to life in prison unless the new felony is a serious or violent felony or there are other aggravating factors. The person instead receives double the punishment for the offense.

Prop 36 also addressed the legions of inmates who are serving life imprisonment but who would not have received life had the new version of the three strikes law been in effect. Those inmates can petition the court to be resentenced. Whether to resentence is up to the judge.

What happens to an inmate who was sentenced to life under the old version of the Three Strikes law, but whose case was not yet final because it’s being appealed? Does he have to petition a court for resentencing? Or is he automatically entitled to be resentenced? A court of appeal just decided that issue.

In People v. Contreras, the California court of appeal for the fourth appellate district decided that an inmate whose sentence was on appeal the date that voters passed Prop 36 does not have to petition a judge for resentencing. He is automatically entitled to the more lenient sentence that voters approved when they passed Proposition 36. Other court of appeals have decided this issue differently. The California Supreme Court may step in to resolve the split.

The opinions and information in this blog are not intended to be legal advice, and are not a substitute for obtaining advice from a qualified attorney about your particular matter.