Mississippi’s Habitual Offender Laws

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:

Every person convicted in this state of a felony who shall have been convicted twice previously of any felony or federal crime upon charges separately brought and arising out of separate incidents at different times and who shall have been sentenced to separate terms of one (1) year or more in any state and/or federal penal institution, whether in this state or elsewhere, shall be sentenced to the maximum term of imprisonment prescribed for such felony, and such sentence shall not be reduced or suspended nor shall such person be eligible for parole or probation.
 
 
Habitual criminals: life imprisonments

Section 99-19-83 is the “tougher” of the two habitual statutes, and reads as follows:

Every person convicted in this state of a felony who shall have been convicted twice previously of any felony or federal crime upon charges separately brought and arising out of separate incidents at different times and who shall have been sentenced to and served separate terms of one (1) year or more in any state and/or federal penal institution, whether in this state or elsewhere, and where any one (1) of such felonies shall have been a crime of violence shall be sentenced to life imprisonment, and such sentence shall not be reduced or suspended nor shall such person be eligible for parole or probation. 
 
The difference in these two statutes is easy.  If you are convicted of a third felony, and your first two “count” under the first statute, then you must serve the ENTIRE maximum term prescribed under the statute for the crime you are convicted of, with no time off for “good time,” and you will not be eligible for early release or parole.  Under the second statute, if either of the two prior felonys was a “violent” felony, then you will be sentenced to LIFE, with no opportunity for early release or parole.  The operation of these two statutes is DEADLY, and your criminal defense lawyer MUST fight however they can to prevent you from being sentenced under these statutes.   
 
Several things to keep in mind: 
  • 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.