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What is Texas’s Three Strikes Law?

by Louise W. Rice

In 1974 Texas became one of the first states to introduce what has become known as the Three Strikes Law. This piece of legislation was aimed at curbing serious crime by targeting habitual felony offenders. Under the Three Strikes Law, prior crimes are taken into consideration during sentencing, and defendants face harsher punishments with each successive felony conviction.

Felony classifications

To fully understand the intricacies of the Three Strikes Law and all it entails, it is important to first familiarize yourself with the state’s felony classifications.

Texas felonies can be split into 4 distinct categories, each ranging in severity and their typical sentence requirements. In order from most to least serious, state felonies can be categorized as either capital felonies, first-degree felonies, second-degree felonies, third-degree felonies, or state-jail felonies.

First strike

Once a first time offender is convicted of a felony, they receive their first “strike” and are sentenced accordingly:

  • Capital Felonies: Punishable by death or life imprisonment with no parole
  • First-Degree Felonies: Life imprisonment or a sentence of 5-99 years
  • Second-Degree Felonies: Sentence of 2 – 20 years
  • Third-Degree Felonies: Sentence of 2 – 10 years
  • State-Jail Felonies: Sentence of 180 days – 2 years

Second Strike

Once a Texas offender is convicted of a felony for the second time, they will receive their second “strike.” With this second strike on their record, offenders are subject to heavier and stricter sentences for the same crime. The standard sentence enhancements for each felony type include:

  • 2nd conviction for a First-Degree Felony: Life imprisonment or a sentence of 15-99 years. With this second conviction, the minimum sentence requirement increases by 10 years.
  • 2nd conviction for a Second-Degree Felony: Sentences match the requirements for an original first-degree felony conviction: life imprisonment or a sentence of 5-99 years. These sentence enhancements raise the minimum penalty by 3 years and the maximum penalty by 79 years, as well as adds the possibility of life in prison).
  • 2nd conviction for a Third-Degree Felony: Sentences match the requirements for an original second-degree felony conviction: 2-20 years, increasing the maximum sentence for a third-degree felony by 10 total years.
  • 2nd conviction for a State-Jail Felony: Sentences match the requirements for an original third-degree felony conviction: 2-10 years. This enhancement raises the minimum sentence from 180 days to 2 years and the maximum sentence from 2 to 10 years.

Third Strike

The sentence enhancements for third-time felony offenders are even more dramatic. For many offenders, a third “strike” could ensure life in prison, even for minor, lower-level crimes.

Under Texas law, anyone who receives 3 felony convictions of any degree (excluding state-level felonies) is expected to serve at least 25 years in jail. A third felony conviction holds a maximum sentence of 99 years or life imprisonment.

However, for a third jail-state felony conviction, offenders will face sentences matching those of an original second-degree felony conviction. Doing so increases the sentence from 180 days-2 years to 2-20 years.

Which crimes are considered “strikes” under the Texas Three Strikes Law?

Texas law stipulates that felonies considered to be “serious or violent” in nature are eligible for strikes under the Three Strikes Law. Some examples of such crimes include:

  • Burglary
  • Arson
  • Murder
  • Rape
  • Kidnapping
  • Child molestation
  • Robbery
  • Sexual assault
  • Crimes involving the use of a weapon
  • Crimes involving explosives
  • Crimes resulting in great bodily harm

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