California, United States of America
The following excerpt is from People v. Thomas, 21 Cal.4th 1122, 90 Cal.Rptr.2d 642, 988 P.2d 563 (Cal. 1999):
Moreover, section 1192.7, subdivision (c)(7) (section 1192.7(c)(7)), includes as a "serious" felony, "[a]ny felony punishable by death or imprisonment in the state prison for life." (Italics added.) As can be seen, this language parallels the language at issue in section 667.5(c)(7). If we were to interpret section 667.5(c)(7) to mean a third strike defendant falls within its purview because of his life sentence, not because of the underlying offense, a similar interpretation would necessarily obtain for section 1192.7(c)(7). "Under the three strikes law, a trial court must sentence a defendant with two or more qualifying prior felony convictions or strikes to an indeterminate term of life imprisonment." (People v. Dotson (1997) 16 Cal.4th 547, 552, 66 Cal.Rptr.2d 423, 941 P.2d 56.) A third strike would by definition, therefore, always qualify as a serious or violent offense.
The plain language of the three strikes law and our cases interpreting it compel the opposite result. In People v. Dotson, supra, 16 Cal.4th 547, 66 Cal. Rptr.2d 423, 941 P.2d 56, for example, this court observed that "the defendant's current felony need not be `serious' for the three strikes law to apply," and distinguished between "a recidivist who committed a serious third strike felony" and one "who committed a non serious third strike felony." (Id. at p. 555, 66 Cal.Rptr.2d 423, 941 P.2d 56, original italics; ["`It is certainly appropriate to punish more harshly those'" three strikes defendants "`convicted of new serious felonies'" than those whose most recent felony is not serious.].) Were the Attorney General's interpretation of section 667.5(c)(7) correct, this distinction would be nonsensical.
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