A “habitual criminal law” is a law that enhances your potential sentence and imposes greater penalties if you have a previous criminal record at the time you are sentenced. These laws are known as “three strikes” laws, and they are the darlings of the “please re-elect me because I’m tough on crime” crowd. When you come to discuss your case with me, one of the first things we will cover is your prior criminal record, if you have one. In some circumstances, we will need to take your case to trial, no matter how bad your case is, due to the potential effects of Mississippi’s habitual criminal laws.
Mississippi has two main habitual offender laws, known in criminal law circles has the “little b**ch” and the “big b**ch.” If you meet certain requirments, and the state can prove that you meet these requirements, the Mississippi legislature has removed some “leeway” the judge might have in determining your sentence, and the results can be harsh. In other words, we need to fight to prevent the operation of these statutes in your case as much as we can.
Habitual criminals: maximum term
Section 99-19-81 is the “lighter” of the two habitual statutes, and reads as follows:
Section 99-19-83 is the “tougher” of the two habitual statutes, and reads as follows:
- The state MUST properly indict you under these statutes for you to be convicted under them.
- But the state might be able to amend the indictment up until your trial date, if it can prove you had the proper notice and an opportunity to defend yourself.
- The state must “prove” these prior convictions with competent evidence (usually testimony from custodian of records at the Mississippi Department of Corrections).
- The prior, or “predicate,” convictions can come from Mississippi, federal court, or from any other state.
- There is no specific definition of a “crime of violence,” but common sense has guided courts in making the determination (armed robbery, attempted rape, manslaughter, aggravated assault, etc.).
EXAMPLE: You have two prior convictions, one for felony shoplifting, and the other for possession of marijuana with intent. If you get caught with a firearm, and are convicted of being a “felon-in-possession,” if you are indicted under the first statute, you will automatically be sentenced to ten years “flat time,” or “day-for-day,” because 10 years is the maximum penalty prescribed for being a felon in possession. Let’s change the facts a little: You have two prior convictions, one for felony shoplifting, and one for aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer. If you write a bad check for $100.00 (a bad check for $100.00 or more is a felony), then you face imprisonment for LIFE, with no opportunity to get out, because the agg. assault charge would be considered a violent felony.
These laws have overwhelming public support, because of their “tough on crime” appeal. If you are on the receiving end, and have been indicted under one of these statutes, you absolutely need a good criminal lawyer to explain how they will work, and advise you on your options. As I stated, it may be that we have to take your case to trial. And if that is the case, contact me as soon as you can.