Today, the Massachusetts House voted on “H3811: An Act Relative to Habitual Offenders”, which would create a “three strikes” law for Massachusetts. Under a three strikes law, once an individual has been convicted of three separate felonies, or “strikes”, they are “out” of society permanently (i.e. they receive a life sentence). Some three strikes laws provide for the possibility of parole after twenty five years, however, under the this bill, three felonies would result in a mandatory life sentence without possibility of parole. The text of the Massachusetts three strikes bill is available here.
In this commentators opinion, the bill is too costly, ill conceived, and far too harsh. Passing a three strikes law in Massachusetts would add many more inmates to our already overcrowded prison system and a significant burden to our state budget. Furthermore, the efficacy of three strikes laws in deterring crime is very unclear. In 2004, the Justice Policy Institute conducted a study to determine the impact of California’s three strikes rule approximately ten years after its enactment. The study found that the nearly two-thirds of the persons incarcerated under California’s three strikes rule were convicted of nonviolent offenses. Also, the counties in California which used the three strikes rule most frequently did not see a greater reduction in crime than the counties which used the law more sparingly.
As of the time that this post is being written, the Massachusetts legislature has already voted on the bill. If the House has approved the bill, it still needs to be approved by the governor before coming into law. However, even if the House did not approve the bill, it is very likely that another proposal for a three strikes law will be presented to the Massachusetts legislature for their consideration in the near future. Since 1993, twenty five states have adopted three strikes laws, which means that Massachusetts is now in the minority.
If you are opposed to Massachusetts passing a three strikes law, or you would like to see Massachusetts pass a more lenient version of the law, contact your legislators. To find out who your elected officials are, fill in your address here. As always, if you have any questions about criminal law issues in Massachusetts, contact us at (978) 263-7119 or online to speak with an experienced Massachusetts Criminal Lawyer.