Three Strikes Legislation and Sentencing Commission Objectives

57 Pages Posted: 27 Oct 1998

See all articles by Ronald F. Wright

Ronald F. Wright

Wake Forest University - School of Law


Between 1993 and 1997, state legislatures across the country passed legislation popularly known as "three strikes and you're out" laws. These laws appeared at a time when sentencing commissions existed in many states, and the commissions were involved in the legislative debates leading to the votes on Three Strikes laws. Thus, the passage of Three Strikes laws can shed light on one type of interaction between sentencing commissions and legislatures. This article posits a variety of objectives for sentencing commissions during Three Strikes debates, each a response to the recurring "pathologies" that appear when legislative, judicial and executive branch officials create sentencing policy. A survey of states that have passed Three Strikes laws indicates that sentencing commissions have not made any systematic difference in the legislative debates on these statutes. Commissions have little reason to oppose these laws absolutely, and could lose political credibility by doing so. Commission have incentives instead to argue for limiting the scope of these statutes. Where commissions have been involved in the debates about habitual felon legislation, they have emphasized limits on judicial discretion, focused on the quality of legislative deliberations rather than on legislative outcomes, and devoted little attention to prosecutorial charging decisions.

JEL Classification: K14

Suggested Citation

Wright, Ronald F., Three Strikes Legislation and Sentencing Commission Objectives. Available at SSRN: or

Ronald F. Wright (Contact Author)

Wake Forest University - School of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 7206
Winston-Salem, NC 27109
United States
336-758-5727 (Phone)
336-758-4496 (Fax)

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