California’s Supreme Court ruled a portion of the Three Strikes Law unconstitutional. It ruled that there are limits on awarding multiple strikes arising out of a single criminal act.
The facts of the case are as follows:
Darlene Vargas and Oscar Velasquez committed a home invasion robbery against Lynn Burrows and William Alves. Later that night, Vargas and Velasquez were caught prowling near another home in the same neighborhood. A witness later identified Velasquez and Vargas as the man and woman who were walking near the victims’ home. They were in possession of burglary tools and items taken from the Burrows/Alves home.
Vargas was charged and convicted of burglary, grand theft and conspiracy to commit grand theft.
At sentencing, the court ruled that a 1999 carjacking and robbery counted as two strikes against her, even though they happened during a single criminal act.
The court on July 10 ruled that when the Three Strikes Law passed in 1994, voters understood that a person would have three chances before the harshest penalty could be imposed and that no one can receive two strikes on one act.
The court clarified multiple strikes out of a single prior conviction. In the 1998 case People v. Benson, the court ruled that a person who commits additional violence in the course of a serious felony, e.g., shooting or pistol-whipping a victim during a robbery or assaulting a victim during a burglary, should be given multiple strikes as opposed to an individual who committed the same initial felony but did not commit additional violence.
“But where, as here, an offender committed but a single act, we disagree she poses a greater risk to society merely because the Legislature has chosen to criminalize the act in different ways. The Legislature is free to criminalize an act in multiple ways, but that it has done so does not of itself make an offender more blameworthy, or more dangerous, within the meaning of the Three Strikes law,” the court ruled.
The court found that since Vargas’ priors were multiple criminal convictions stemming from the same set of facts during the commission of a single act, they count as one strike.