This is just insanity and so are the three strike laws!
By Bob Egelko
_____ was a 41-year-old man with a long criminal record and a low IQ when he left Oakland in late 1999 and bedded down at a homeless shelter in San Mateo. Police found him there in March 2000 and discovered he had failed to reregister as a sex offender as required by law — once a year, within five days of his birthday, and within five days of a change of address.
After a San Mateo County judge barred a psychologist from testifying about _____’s low mental capacity, a jury convicted him of violating the registration law. With multiple felony convictions on his record — three robberies in 1978, and forcible oral copulation of a minor and attempted manslaughter in 1983 –he was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison under California’s three-strikes law.
_____ has remained in prison during lengthy and unsuccessful appeals in the state courts, and on Wednesday he lost again, this time in the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (PDF).
One defense argument was that the trial judge should have allowed the jury to hear a psychologist who said _____ had an IQ of 69 and that such people have difficulty with their memory and ability to make plans. The judge said the defense could offer evidence that _____ was unaware of his duty to register, or lacked the ability to comply, but that state law barred testimony that he suffered from a mental defect that affected his capacity to follow the law. In any event, as prosecution witnesses noted, _____ had registered as a sex offender after his birthday in January 1999 and was evidently aware of his duty to register. On Wednesday, the federal court said the California law did not interfere with _____’s ability to put on a defense.
The court also upheld his 25-to-life sentence in a 2-1 ruling. The majority, Judges Connie Callahan and Randy Smith, noted that the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the California three-strikes law in other cases, and said the sentence wasn’t excessive for a sex offender with a long record who fails to register after changing his address.
Dissenting Judge Barry Silverman said the jury’s verdict, after lengthy deliberations, failed to specify whether _____ was guilty of failing to register after moving or — more likely — had merely violated the requirement to reregister every year. In the latter case, Silverman said, a life sentence for such a “technical” violation would be an unconstitutional act of cruel and unusual punishment.