Mississippi is one of 28 states that abide by a three-strikes rule, also known as a habitual offender law.
This policy means that even minor crimes if repeated enough times may come with high sentences. Nonviolent ones may cost you the rest of your life while violent offenders become eligible to receive parole.
How do the habitual offender laws work?
Mississippi actually has two separate habitual offender laws, a “big” one and a “little” one. According to the “little” regulation, if an individual commits three felonies, regardless of what they are (they do not have to be the same), the judge must impose the maximum penalty for the third offense.
Based on the “big” law, if one of the two prior crimes involved violence, the third felony carries a punishment of life in prison without parole even if it was not a violent one. The same applies if the two felonies previously committed carried sentences of a year or longer. Currently, there is no expiration date for offenses to no longer count towards the three strikes.
Is there potential for defense?
Individuals continue to fall under the protection of the Eighth Amendment, even if facing the potential consequences of a third accusation. Proportionality and reason are possible defenses. There is also the chance of having a sentence reduced later. In 2021, a bill proposing amendments to the habitual offender policies made its way through the state’s House of Representatives and to the Senate.
The three-strikes law may result in heavy penalties for offenses that may not be severe. However, there exist potential arguments for the accused and lawmakers continue to debate changing the policy.