The federal version of three strikes was much more bounded than the California law. From a memo describing the provisions of the law to federal prosecutors, here is when it can be applied:
The “Three Strikes” statute is sufficiently important to our violence enforcement efforts that I want to underscore its key provisions. Under the federal “Three Strikes” provision, which is now codified at 18 U.S.C. § 3559(c), the defendant receives mandatory life imprisonment if he or she:
- is convicted in federal court of a “serious violent felony” and
- has two or more prior convictions in federal or state courts, at least one of which is a “serious violent felony.” The other prior offense may be a “serious drug offense.”
Under the statute, a “serious violent felony” includes murder, manslaughter, sex offenses, kidnapping, robbery, and any offense punishable by 10 years or more which includes as an element the use of force or that, by its nature, involves a significant risk of force.
The statute also enumerates certain nonqualifying felonies, including unarmed robbery offenses and arsons that posed no threat to human life. (Source)
See California Three Strikes for the provisions which made that law so much more damaging.
The Three Strikes Memo encouraged federal prosecutors to use the Three Strikes provisions to increase jail time.