The California Supreme Court recently resolved the issue of whether a single act resulting in two strike-able felony convictions can be used as two strikes. In People v. Vargas, 14 Cal. Daily Op. Serv. 7786, 2014 Daily Journal D.A.R. 9070, Darlene Vargas was sentenced to a third strike under the three strikes law for her burglary conviction in 2008. Vargas had two prior convictions from 1999 for carjacking and robbery which were for the same act; Vargas pled guilty to carjacking and robbery in return for a plea deal of 3 years. For the 2008 burglary conviction the lower court counted the two convictions as two separate strikes for sentencing purposes. Under the three strikes law Vargas would have to serve 25 to life for the third strike. On Appeal, the California Supreme Court concluded that the 1999 conviction should only count for one strike. This meant that Vargas’ sentence should be calculated as a second strike rather than a third which would be consistent with the legislative intent for the three strikes law.
Notably, during sentencing, the trial court has the discretion to dismiss a prior strike-able felony conviction in the furtherance of justice; however there must be “extraordinary circumstances” to exercise that discretion. The California Supreme Court defined Vargas as an example of an extraordinary circumstance in which the trial court should have dismissed the prior strike. The court used the baseball analogy behind the three strikes law to explain their reasoning: you cannot get two strikes for swinging the bat once. Although it is possible to get two strikes during the commission of a crime with multiple criminal acts, such as a robbery where the suspect commits a further crime (for example pistol-whipping a victim which could be charged as an assault with a deadly weapon), the Court found that this case was not one of those circumstances.