What is a Habitual Offender?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A habitual offender is a person who repeatedly engages in criminal activity despite having been convicted and sentenced on prior occasions. Habitual offenders repeat the same crimes or related crimes, and are generally deemed beyond rehabilitation because they demonstrate no interest in ceasing their activities. Once someone is considered a habitual offender, special actions may be taken by the government in the interests of protecting society.

"Three strikes" laws may be used to prosecute felons deemed habitual offenders.
"Three strikes" laws may be used to prosecute felons deemed habitual offenders.

One very common example of a habitual offender is someone who racks up a large number of driving offenses in a short period of time. Someone may be repeatedly ticketed for speeding, for example, or receive several drunk driving convictions in a row. These habitual offenders may have their licenses to drive revoked under the argument that they clearly pose a risk to public safety and the best way to prevent further incidents is to take away driving privileges.

Habitual offenders may end up in jail multiple times.
Habitual offenders may end up in jail multiple times.

Other types of habitual offenders might repeatedly commit robberies, vandalism, or other activities. Regional laws usually have a firm definition of a habitual offender, such as someone who commits three major or 10 minor offenses within a five year period. People who have committed multiple offenses may be warned in court that they are in danger of becoming habitual offenders and this can be used as evidence in future cases that someone was aware of the potential consequences of criminal activity and chose to engage in it regardless.

"Three strikes" laws for habitual offenders  have been criticized for increasing prison populations.
"Three strikes" laws for habitual offenders have been criticized for increasing prison populations.

In some regions, there are so-called “three strikes laws” for habitual offenders who commit felonies. Under these laws, if someone commits and is convicted of three felonies, there are harsh sentencing guidelines which are designed to place the offender behind bars. These laws are designed to reduce the risks posed to society by habitual offenders by removing them from the street so that they cannot continue to commit crimes. These laws have been criticized for increasing prison populations and there is also a debate about how effective they are at the prevention of crime.

Habitual offenders run the risk of being arrested again for lesser offenses.
Habitual offenders run the risk of being arrested again for lesser offenses.

Once someone is classified as a habitual offender, it may be necessary to file an appeal to have the label removed. People who have been classified in error can challenge the standing of the classification, while people who really are habitual offenders may present the court with evidence of rehabilitation as an argument that they should not longer be considered risks to society. A lawyer can assist with such appeals and help people prepare an effective case.

Someone who receives several drunk driving convictions in a row may be classified as a habitual offender.
Someone who receives several drunk driving convictions in a row may be classified as a habitual offender.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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