The term "three strikes rule" is a colloquial expression, indicating a series of state laws that enact that habitual criminals be punished severely for a certain serious crimes. It is a rule adopted by certain American states, but it is not federal law. The precise enactments of this law vary among states, California being the strictest.
The U.S. states
The United States constitution recognises the rights of individual states to be sovereign in respect of much law-making, so within the overall limits of federal law and the constitution, each state enacts specific punishments for crimes committed within its borders. Twenty seven states have adopted versions of the three strikes rule. These are new laws designed to curb the activities of habitual criminals.
If a criminal commits one or more of a range of serious crimes three times, his/her punishment is drastically increased, even as far as life sentencing in some cases. Some states are more draconian than others. These are all crimes punishable under state law. Minor crime does not fall under the rule, but states may vary in their definitions of major and minor.
Lawyers challenged the three strikes rule in the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that certain prisoners were being illegally punished as these laws broke the eighth amendment to the constitution, which forbids cruel [excessive] and unusual punishments. However, the Supreme Court rejected the plea on the grounds that there is a tradition of punishing habitual miscreants more severely than others.
Crimes and punishments
Not all crimes come under this rule. They must be serious offences, including: violent and sexual offences, rape, murder, robbery of a residence in which a dangerous weapon is used, other violent offences, burglary, or assault with the intention to commit burglary or rape.
On the third strike, a term derived from baseball, the length of sentence is increased dramatically. In one case, a young man three times convicted of robbing tapes from a store within the space of a few weeks was sentenced to a term of twenty five years to life imprisonment.
Some offences are not mentioned. Terrorist offences and offences against the United States come under federal law, as does kidnapping, which carries a mandatory life sentence in the United States. Federal law overrules state law. However, states may well take such crimes into account when applying the three strikes rule for crimes committed in their borders.
The strictest state
The strictest state is California, where a life sentence is possible on the third strike for a number of offences. However, Texas is also very strict.
Capital punishment would not be applied for other offences, other than the crime of murder.