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Serious violent felony definition and federal Three Strikes law

On Behalf of | Feb 8, 2023 | Federal Criminal Defense |

The federal Three Strikes law as written in the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 threatens criminal defendants with lifetime imprisonment for repeated convictions of serious violent felonies. The prior convictions need not all be at the federal level either. Certain convictions under Florida law could count toward the three offenses and activate the federal life sentence.

Definition of serious violent felony

Not all felony convictions place you in jeopardy of a mandatory life sentence. Only select offenses qualify for the purposes of the Three Strikes law. The following offenses meet the federal definition of serious violent felony:

  • Murder
  • Kidnapping
  • Manslaughter
  • Sex offenses
  • Robbery
  • Any crime with a sentence of 10 or more years that involved the use of or risk of force

Influence of previous state convictions

A life sentence arises after your third conviction for a serious violent felony in federal or state court. This means that one or two qualifying felony convictions at the state level will force the federal court to count them as strikes. If your current case results in a conviction for a serious violent felony, then you have three strikes.

Confirmation of previous convictions

For a prosecutor to pursue a life sentence because of three qualifying felony convictions, you must know about this prior to your trial or entering a guilty plea. A prosecutor accomplishes this by filing notice with the court, so your defense strategy will need to deal with this.

To succeed with the application of a life sentence, a prosecutor should obtain certified copies of previous conviction records that confirm that the prior convictions can accurately count as strikes on your record. In this way, a prosecutor avoids acting as if a defendant has three strikes when the record might actually show that one or more previous convictions may not qualify as a strike against you.