What is a "serious" or "violent" felony?

Three strikes laws establish severe penalties for defendants with qualifying prior convictions, even those who aren’t charged with a third strike. Under many sentencing schemes, convictions for “serious” or “violent” felonies count as strikes. Determining what, exactly, qualifies as a serious or violent felony requires consulting the three strikes law in question.

In California, for example, the three strikes laws list the offenses that qualify as serious or violent felonies. (Attempts to commit these crimes also qualify.) In addition, there are many crimes that, while not themselves listed in the three strikes laws, can become strikes because of the way in which defendants commit them (for example, seriously injuring a victim in the course of an assault).

The following is just a sampling of felonies that are “violent,” “serious,” or both:

  • murder
  • voluntary manslaughter
  • rape
  • any felony in which the defendant personally causes great bodily injury
  • kidnapping
  • robbery
  • carjacking
  • selling drugs such as heroin and cocaine to a minor
  • any felony punishable by death or life imprisonment. (Cal. Penal Code §§ 667.5(c), 1192.7(c).)

If you’re facing any kind of criminal charge, you should consult an experienced criminal defense attorney. This is particularly true if you’ve been charged with or have a felony on your record. Only a knowledgeable lawyer can fully advise you of the applicable sentencing law and adequately protect your rights.

For further reading, see Typical Three Strikes Laws.

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