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Washington State Three Strikes Law

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Many states, including Washington, have enacted three strikes laws for specific criminal offenses. Although the exact laws vary from state to state, they often follow the same general guidelines. If a person receives three convictions for certain crimes, the court will assign harsher penalties than it would if it was a first or second offense. In Washington, a person convicted of three or more crimes will receive a mandatory life sentence.

What Does the Three Strikes Law State?

Washington became one of the first states to pass a three strikes law, enacting RCW 9.94A.570  in 1993. Since its implementation, 23 other states have also adopted three strikes laws, including California, New Mexico, Nevada, and Arizona. To qualify under Washington’s Three Strikes Law, a person must receive a criminal conviction on three separate occasions for certain crimes, including rape, murder, and kidnapping.

Once the persistent offender receives his or her three strikes, he or she will receive a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of release. In cases involving aggravated murder in the first degree, the offender will receive a death sentence.

Under the three strikes law, the offender will not be eligible for parole, earned release time, home arrest, work release, or any other form of authorized leave. He or she can only leave the correctional facility if he or she is attending an inpatient treatment facility or needs emergency medical attention.

What Crimes Count as a Strike under the Three Strikes Law?

Most felonies do not count as a strike under Washington’s three strikes law. Only serious violent crimes are subject to life imprisonment or death sentences, including the following.

Under the three strikes law, courts rarely take into account the various levels of these offenses or the circumstances surrounding the crime. If you are facing charges for any of these crimes, avoiding a conviction is crucial to protect your rights.

Recent Challenges to the Three Strikes Law

Washington’s three strikes law assigns automatic life sentences without the possibility of parole. The Washington Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed the law, even in the face of challenges from defendants who have been subject to the three strikes rule. In a unanimous ruling in August 2019, the Washington Supreme Court upheld the law after three separate challenges involving defendants who received three strikes convictions when they were young adults.

These defendants are currently serving mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole. Each defendant received their first strike conviction when they were between the ages of 18 and 21. In their challenges the defendants claimed that, since human brain development does not end until a person reaches their mid-twenties, automatically sentencing them to life in prison is unconstitutional.

 The court did not accept this argument, stating that the Washington Constitution does not require a bar on life sentences if the defendant committed a strike crime as a young person. While the court acknowledged that mandatory sentencing laws may need reform in the future.

If you are facing a conviction for a violent crime, you need aggressive legal representation. A criminal defense lawyer in Tacoma, WA can work closely with the state to try to change or lower your charge to a non-strike offense, avoiding a life sentence and protecting your freedom. Contact an attorney as soon as possible to discuss your legal options.

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