How The Three Strikes Law Works for Felony Crimes in Arizona


“Three strikes, you’re out” laws impose a mandatory life sentence for defendants who are convicted of three felony crimes on separate occasions. Washington enacted the first three strikes law in the 1990s, though California is the state that’s often associated with three strikes laws.

Like it or not, Arizona is one of 26 states with three strikes laws on the books. However, while harsher three strikes laws in other states apply to any felony, Arizona’s three strikes law only applies to certain types of felony convictions. 

In other words, Arizona provides a little wiggle room for repeat offenders.

This article provides a brief overview of Arizona’s three strikes law for repeat felony offenders, covering the following important topics:

  • What crimes fall under Arizona’s three strikes law?
  • What are the penalties for repeat offenders outside of the three strikes law?
  • Possible defenses when facing a third-strike criminal charge
  • FAQs about Arizona’s three strikes law
  • What to do if you’re facing a third-strike criminal charge

Crimes that Fall Under Arizona’s Three Strikes Law

Under ARS 13-706, Arizona law dictates a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment for defendants convicted of a serious offense (excluding drug offenses), and who have previously been convicted of two or more serious offenses on separate occasions. The statute classifies the following crimes as serious offenses:

In three strikes cases involving serious offenses, the defendant is not eligible for a pardon, probation, release, or suspension of sentence until they have served at least 25 years of their prison sentence.

Arizona’s three strikes law is even harsher for third-time offenses that involve an aggravated or violent felony, extending the minimum incarceration period to 35 years. For the purpose of ARS 13-706, aggravated or violent felonies include the following charges:

  • Aggravated assault (some exclusions apply)
  • Armed robbery
  • Arson of an occupied prison or jail facility
  • Arson of an occupied structure
  • Child molestation
  • Child sex trafficking
  • Commercial sexual exploitation of a minor
  • Committing assault with the intent to incite to riot or participate in riot
  • Continuous sexual abuse of a child
  • Dangerous or deadly assault by a prisoner
  • Discharging a firearm in an occupied residential structure
  • Drive by shooting
  • First degree burglary in an occupied residential structure
  • First degree murder
  • Kidnapping
  • Leading or participating in a criminal street gang
  • Participating in or assisting a criminal syndicate
  • Second degree murder
  • Sexual assault
  • Sexual conduct with a minor that qualifies as a class 2 felony
  • Sexual exploitation of a minor
  • Taking a child for the purpose of prostitution
  • Terrorism
  • Unlawful introduction of disease or parasite
  • Violent sexual assault

Possible Defenses When Facing a Third-Strike Criminal Charge

When you’re facing a third-strike criminal charge in Arizona, it’s imperative that you either prove your innocence in court, convince the prosecutor to drop the charges, or negotiate a plea deal. The prosecutor can’t skirt the third-strike law, but they may be able to reduce the charges so that the conviction isn’t subject to third-strike sentencing guidelines.

In any case, you’ll need an experienced criminal law attorney to defend you in court and negotiate with the prosecutor. When a life imprisonment sentence is on the line, there’s simply no room for error.

FAQs about Three Strikes Laws

Q: Who started the three strikes law?

Washington was the first state to enact a “three strikes, you’re out” law back in 1993. To this day, it’s one of the nation’s strictest three strikes laws.

Q: Is the three strikes law federal or state?

Since Washington introduced the first three strikes law in 1993, more than half of the states and the federal government have enacted three strikes laws. In Arizona, defendants are subject to three strikes laws in state and federal court.

Q: What states have a three strikes law?

As of 2019, the following states have enacted three strikes laws:

  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Indiana
  • Kansas
  • Maryland
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin

Q: Is the three strike law still in effect in Arizona?

Three strikes laws are being questioned and challenged across the United States as citizens and lawmakers reevaluate the effects of incarceration. Arizona’s three strikes law will likely undergo scrutiny and alterations in the future, but as of 2019 the law is still in full effect.  

Q: Why do more three strikes cases go to trial?

The challenge with three strikes cases in Arizona is that the law requires a life imprisonment sentence for qualifying offenses, completely removing the possibility of a pardon, release, suspension of sentence, or probation. That means unless the prosecutor is willing to reduce the charges to a crime that doesn’t qualify for third strike sentencing, the defendant will have to successfully defend their case in court to avoid a life sentence.

In short, a not-guilty verdict is the only solution when plea bargains are off the table. Given the significantly higher stakes, it makes sense why more three strikes cases go to trial.

What to Do if You’re Facing Your Third Strike in Arizona

If you’re facing a serious offense, aggravated felony, or violent felony that’s subject to Arizona’s three strikes law, consult your case with an experienced criminal law attorney as soon as possible. You have the right to an attorney when you’re arrested, and you should exercise that right (along with the right to remain silent) immediately. 

Do not attempt to negotiate a plea deal with the prosecutor or arresting authorities without consulting an attorney — even if the authorities tell you the deal is off the table if you call an attorney. The truth is an experienced attorney should be able to get you an even better deal, and they’ll ensure it’s an ironclad agreement that the prosecutor can’t renege on.

Call the JacksonWhite Criminal Law team at (480) 467-4370 to discuss your case today.

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