California's One Strike Law - Penal Code 667.61 PC
The State of California is known for its "three-strikes law” for certain crimes, meaning the third conviction of a qualifying crime triggers an automatic sentencing enhancement of 25 years to life in prison (Penal Code 667 PC).
However, there is a specific provision in the law that automatically imposes a sentencing enhancement of 15 years or 25 to life for a first-time conviction of certain sex crimes when they are committed under aggravating circumstances.
This is California's "one strike rule" under Penal Code 667.61 PC. Under this rule, in certain instances, a single conviction for a sex crime could result in a life sentence.
In other words, PC 667.61 imposes sentencing enhancements for specific sex crimes if committed under aggravating circumstances. Depending on the details of the case, this statute can increase a sentence by 15 years, 25, or by life in prison.
An example includes a situation where someone convicted of Penal Code 261 PC rape could get an increased sentence of 25 years to life imprisonment if they have a prior rape conviction. To face a life sentence under the one strike law, a defendant must have committed the following:
- a sexual-related crime under Penal Code 667.61(c) PC;
- one or more of the circumstances defined in Penal Code 667.61(d) PC; or
- two or more of the circumstances defined in Penal Code 661.61(e) PC.
In this article by our California criminal defense lawyers, we will explain this statute in greater detail below.
The One-Strike Rule Explained
Under PC 667.61, any person convicted of specified sex crimes when certain aggravating factors are present will automatically receive an enhanced sentence of 15 years, 25 years, or life in state prison, depending on the crime combined with the aggravating circumstances. The list of qualifying sex crimes under this provision is long and includes:
- Rape - Penal Code 261 PC,
- Rape accomplished by threats – Penal Code 261(a)(6),
- Gang rape – Penal Code 264.1 PC,
- Forcible sodomy - Penal Code 286 PC,
- Lewd or lascivious acts with a child under 14 - Penal Code 288 PC,
- Continuous sexual abuse of a child - Penal Code 288.5 PC,
- Forcible oral copulation - Penal Code 287 PC,
- Forcible sexual penetration with a foreign object - Penal Code 289 PC,
- Mayhem in sexual crime – Penal Code 205 and 206 PC,
- Sex crime while committing a burglary – Penal Code 460(a),
- Great bodily injury during sex crime – Penal Code 12022.53 PC.
What Are the Aggravating Factors that Lead to Enhanced Sentences?
PC 667.61 lists numerous aggravating factors that, taken together or combined, could trigger enhanced sentences up to life imprisonment for a sex crime. Examples of these aggravating factors include, but are not limited to:
- A prior conviction for one or more of the qualifying offenses,
- Kidnapping the victim when committing the crime,
- Committing mayhem or torture of the victim during the commission of the crime,
- Committing the sex crime in the context of first-degree burglary,
- Administering a controlled substance to the victim (e.g., a "date rape drug"),
- Tying up the victim in the commission of the crime,
- Causing serious bodily harm to the victim,
- The victim was a minor under age 14 and suffered bodily harm.
What Are Examples of Qualifying Sex Crimes?
Sentencing enhancements under PC 667.61 can be pretty complicated. Still, they are prescribed taking into account such factors as the type and severity of the crime, the number of aggravating factors, 2 or 3 aggravators typically result in 25-to-life, and the victim's age. Some examples of how the enhancements work:
- Kidnapping a victim before sodomizing them generates an automatic enhancement of 15 years to life in prison;
- Raping a victim during a home burglary generates an automatic enhancement of 25 years to life in prison;
- Committing sexual abuse of a child under age 14 while tying them up and drugging them (2 factors) generates an automatic sentence of life in prison without parole.
How Can You Defend Against Sex Crime Enhanced Penalties?
Because the stakes are so high for the defendant for crimes that qualify for the One-Strike Rule, a good defense attorney won't just fight to seek an acquittal for the crime in question—they will also actively implement certain defenses that refute the aggravating factors in an attempt to avoid the automatic sentencing enhancement.
Some possible defenses that can be used to avoid an enhanced sentence under Penal Code 667.61 PC are discussed below.
Perhaps the aggravating factor or factors are not supported by evidence. For example, suppose the defendant is accused of kidnapping the victim during the commission of a sex crime. In that case, the defense could argue that the victim willingly went with the defendant and was not kidnapped.
The aggravating factor or factors can be mitigated. For example, if the defendant is accused of causing severe bodily harm to the victim, the defense could argue that the injuries were not serious.
If the aggravating factor includes a minor victim, asserting that the defendant reasonably believed that the child was over 18 years old. This defense does not deny the crime but may eliminate the enhancement.
The defendant did not directly create aggravating circumstances. For example, someone else may have inflicted severe bodily injury even if you committed a sex crime.
Perhaps the allegations are false. If you didn't violate California Penal Code 667.61 and were falsely accused, then perhaps we can prove the alleged victim falsely accused you by exposing inconsistencies in their testimony.
We might be able to negotiate with the prosecution for lesser underlying charges or a case dismissal. Further, through prefiling negotiations, it might be possible to avoid formal filing of criminal charges before the first court date.
Suppose you are a family member who was accused of committing a sex crime that carries a life sentence in California? In that case, you need to discuss the details with our criminal defense lawyers.
Eisner Gorin LLP has offices in Los Angeles County, and we provide legal representation to people across the state. You can reach us for an initial case consultation by phone or use the contact form.