Also known as “three strikes law,” Connecticut has enhanced punishments for people convicted of three of the same or similar offenses. In most states that recognize this doctrine which goes back to the 1990’s, the meaning has more to do with repeating serious violent felonies and required lengthy sentences that go along with those felonies. In Connecticut, that is not a requirement and it’s important to know the difference.
State law in Connecticut allows prosecutors, or State’s Attorneys, to turn repeat misdemeanors into felony convictions. In other words, a person who has two prior arrests for a Larceny 6 (Connecticut General Statutes section 53a-125b), a low-level misdemeanor, who then gets a third arrest for Larceny 6 will be facing a possible felony conviction. While it may seem harsh, there is a legal basis for this reasoning.
One of the goals of the criminal justice system is deterrence which is defined as discouragement of an action or event through instilling doubt or fear of the consequences. The consequences of serious criminal acts include fines, incarceration and probation. Other consequences include continued close supervision for several months after release from incarceration which may involve surprise visits from probation officers to a convict’s home.
Prosecutors take these laws very seriously. They are firmly of the mindset that a person who “does not learn their lesson” after two convictions, does not understand the seriousness of their actions and needs to experience jail. This deprivation of one’s freedom is designed to drive the point home that continued violations involving the same behavior will not be tolerated.
The driving force behind this rationale is public safety. While the best known persistent offender laws involve serious and violent felonies, they also involve less serious misdemeanors. This is because someone who repeatedly drinks and drives, writes bad checks, commits identity theft, harasses or stalks a former partner or friend, commits retail theft, habitually uses controlled substances can rise to the level of a felon. The reason for this is the repeated illegal behavior.
While it may seem like three arrests over a twenty year period for theft, DUI, drug possession or other illegal non-violent behavior is not serious and should not involve loss of one’s freedom, the Connecticut legislature and judicial system disagrees. It is important to note that persistent offender status can only be obtained through convictions and not just arrests. People can expect to be incarcerated even for minor offenses if they commit enough of those offenses. They can also expect that they will eventually be a convicted felon.
Although it doesn’t mean that your life is over if you have a felony conviction, your ability to find lucrative employment will be seriously compromised. You may find it hard to live where you want to live because many landlords will not allow a convicted felon to rent their apartments. Depending on the offense, you may also find yourself having to “register” as a sexual offender, violent offender or other be subject to other life-changing events due to your status.
If you are facing prosecution for an offense for which you have already been convicted, it is very important that you hire an experienced criminal defense lawyer. I have been in practice for over 25 years and travel to all of the state and federal courts in Connecticut. I have gotten excellent results for people in your situation on many occasions and on various offenses. The consultation is free and you will definitely speak with me.