The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently overturned a 28 to life sentence as violating the Eighth Amendment protection agains cruel and unusual punishment.
While there was no dispute that the defendant’s criminal history was bad (he had been previously been convicted of child molestation, attempted rape and robbery), the crime that caused the 28 to life sentence was failing to register as a sex offender within 5 days of his birthday. Sex offenders are required to update their registration under the Megan’s law statutes (Penal Code section 290) annually within 5 days of their birthday and every time they move. The defendant had updated his registration when he moved, but did not again re-register on his birthday.
Under California’s “three strikes” law, a conviction for any felony with two or more qualifying “strike” offenses can carry a punishment of 25 years to life in state prison. In overturning this sentence, the court noted that the crime was not a violent offense. It was not in the same category as the previous strikes the defendant had on his record. The court described the failing to register as the most passive offense imaginable. Simply put, sentencing that defendant to 28 to life in prison for a technical violation of the law was too harsh. The entire case – Gonzalez v. Duncan – can be found here. (PDF file)