NYC 3 Strikes Rule – What are repeat offender laws, and why are they important?

NYC 3 Strikes Rule – What are repeat offender laws, and why are they important?

New York State is one of 30 states that have “three strikes” laws in place, and it’s important to understand why and how these statutes can impact an individual accused of committing multiple felony crimes. 

“Three strikes” laws 

“Three strikes” laws impose a harsher than normal sentence when an individual is convicted of certain felony crimes on three separate occasions. Typically a three strikes sentence means mandatory life in prison. 

“Three strikes” laws vary by state and differ in the following ways: by which specific crimes were committed, severity of punishments, and whether the laws apply to felonies, misdemeanors, or both. 

The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act was introduced at the federal level in 1994 and includes a “three strikes” provision. Under this federal law, if an individual commits three serious violent felonies or crimes related to drug trafficking, they will receive a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole. 

In New York, this concept is referred to as “persistent felony offender” law. This law defines a persistent felony offender as someone who stands convicted of a felony after having been previously convicted of two or more felony crimes.

There are a few crime-specific cases where a repeat offense law is in place, such as Driving While Intoxicated charges. For example, the New York State Legislature passed a DWI Repeat Offender Law in 2014 that imposes strict penalties on drivers convicted of three or more DWI charges within a 15 year period. Drivers can be charged with a class D felony and face up to seven years behind bars and a $10,000 fine. 

Habitual offender laws

Habitual offender laws exist in several states as well, but their application varies by jurisdiction. The concept may seem identical to “three strikes” laws, but the details are a bit different. Habitual offender laws rely on certain qualifications: the length of time between crimes; the order of how the crimes are committed; how serious each crime is; and the judge’s discretion. 

New York State passed a habitual offender law in 1926 and it remains one of the harshest in the country. It mandates a life sentence for a fourth felony conviction, regardless of the severity of the crime committed. This law was amended in 1936, but the debate surrounding it resembles the debate about “three strikes” laws today.  New York’s habitual offender law has morphed into its “three strikes” law.


The purpose of “three strikes” and habitual offender laws is to ensure that repeat offenders receive an appropriate sentence and stay behind bars. Proponents of these laws claim that they decrease the overall amount of crime by avoiding the possibility that certain individuals will be released on shorter sentences of parole. 

For instance, the aforementioned New York State DWI Repeat Offender Law was passed with the idea of curbing dangerous and fatal drunk driving crashes.Opponents of “three strikes” and habitual offender laws say that the idea that these laws help lessen violent crime is mistaken, and can actually lead to an increase in violence. They also argue that “three strikes” cases clog the court system since repeat offenders will most likely plead not guilty and go to trial since they would face the prospect of a life sentence.