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sentencing—three-strikes law

Some state legislatures—and the United States Congress—have enacted so-called three-strikes laws (or three strikes, you’re out laws) to help law enforcement deal with violent repeat offenders—sometimes called persistent offenders, or prior and persistent offenders. The federal three-strikes law is a statute—also known as the Violent Crime Control Act—located in the United States Code at 18 U.S.C. §3559(c).

Under the federal three-strikes law, a person who is convicted in federal court of a serious violent felony and who has previously been convicted (in state or federal court) of (1) two or more serious violent felonies, or (2) one or more serious violent felonies and one or more serious drug offenses—will receive a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment.

Under the federal three-strikes law, serious violent felonies generally include federal or state offenses of (1) murder; (2) manslaughter (other than involuntary manslaughter); (3) assault with intent to commit murder; (4) assault with intent to commit rape; (5) sexual abuse and aggravated sexual abuse; (6) abusive sexual contact; (7) kidnapping; (8) aircraft piracy; (9) robbery; (10) carjacking; (11) extortion; (12) arson; (13) illegal firearms use; (14) illegal firearms possession; (15) attempt, conspiracy, or solicitation to commit any of these criminal offenses; and (16) any other offense punishable by a maximum term of imprisonment of 10 years or more that has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against another person, or that involves a substantial risk that physical force against another person may be used in the course of committing the offense.

Three-strikes laws enacted by state legislatures vary from state to state—including what constitutes a strike offense—and are generally located in a state’s statutes—often in the penal or criminal code.

In Texas, the three-strikes law is designed to impose harsher sentences on repeat offenders who commit serious crimes. While the federal three-strikes law, found in 18 U.S.C. §3559(c), mandates a life sentence for a person convicted in federal court of a serious violent felony if they have two or more previous convictions for serious violent felonies or serious drug offenses, Texas has its own version of this law. Texas Penal Code §12.42 outlines the state's habitual offender statute, which increases the punishment for individuals who have previous felony convictions. For example, if a person has been previously convicted of a felony and is subsequently convicted of another felony, they face a heightened sentence range. The specific enhancements and sentence ranges depend on the nature of the current offense and the offender's prior criminal history. Serious violent felonies in Texas typically include offenses such as murder, sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated kidnapping, among others. It's important to note that the application of the three-strikes law can be complex and varies case by case, often requiring the expertise of an attorney to navigate the legal implications.

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