Calif. Appeals Ct. Overturns Sentence for Failure of Sex Offender to Register

25 years to life is too long a sentence to impose on a sex offender who failed to register, a California appeals court ruled yesterday. The court termed the failure a "technical violation."

On Monday, Coleman Blease and Rick Sims overturned a 26-years-to-life sentence for Keith Carmony, calling it a violation of the state and federal prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment. The defendant's failure to register, they held, was "completely harmless and no worse than a breach of an overtime parking ordinance."

"If the constitutional prohibition is to have a meaningful application," Blease wrote, "it must prohibit the imposition of a recidivist penalty based on an offense that is no more than a harmless technical violation of a regulatory law."

Now if they'd only apply that cruel and unusual punishment reasoning to three-strikes sentences, we'd be making progress.

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  • While I agree that 25 years is way too long, I somehow doubt that not registering is akin to forgetting to put change in the parking meter. I think not reporting your status should carry a substantial penalty, as indicated by apparently a previous amount of time he had served for failing to register. But to go to life over it, I'm not so sure about. If for 20 years he didn't register and just bummed around the country, yes, I would say throw the book at him, because he is clearly out of his way to not be known. But otherwise he seems to be clean.

    Re: Calif. Appeals Ct. Overturns Sentence for Fail (none / 0) (#2)
    by Patrick on Wed Mar 30, 2005 at 07:40:13 AM EST
    This has to be a three strikes case, there is no registration violation that exposes the suspect to a 25 year sentence. Carmony must have had two prior strike convictions, and the failure to register was was the third. If you believe the article, the court has reversed itself on a previous case that seemed to be on point. But I can understand it.

    Re: Calif. Appeals Ct. Overturns Sentence for Fail (none / 0) (#3)
    by anon55 on Wed Mar 30, 2005 at 08:45:04 AM EST
    More information is available here:

    Carmony, a registered sex offender since being convicted of assaulting his then-girlfriend's 9-year-old daughter in 1983, was arrested in 1999 for not registering with authorities, as required by law, within five days of his Oct. 22 birthday. However, he had registered 29 days earlier when he moved with his wife to a new residence.

    A trial court judge in Shasta County, Calif., sentenced Carmony to the life term, after taking into account that he had not registered in 1990 and 1997, the latter landing him in state prison for 32 months.

    In his opinion, Blease called this a "rare case" in which the harshness of the penalty is "grossly disproportionate" to the offense, which he said was "an entirely passive, harmless and technical violation of the registration law."

    "The stated purpose of the birthday registration requirement was (and still is) to 'update' the existing registration information," he wrote. "Here, there was no new information to update, and the state was aware of that fact."

    Blease also pointed out that the penalty imposed on Carmony was "substantially greater" than sentences for second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, mayhem, kidnapping, first-degree robbery, rape, oral copulation with a person under 14 and lewd acts on a child under 14. He also noted that Carmony had committed only one sex crime in his life, had recently married, maintained a residence, participated in Alcoholics Anonymous and worked as a forklift operator in Redding, Calif.

    "It is a rare case that violates the prohibition against cruel and/or unusual punishment," Blease conceded. "However, there must be a bottom to that well."

    This is more information, but even this could be misleading. With the caveat that I know nothing about the details of the 1983 offense listed here, I'm always cautious when I read the word "assaulted" in relation to sex crimes. I've read California cases where minors under 14 who were already beginning or through puberty made moves on adults (i.e., grabbing parts), and the adults were charged and sometimes convicted of "assault" even if they resisted. No, those aren't the majority of cases or convictions, but "victims' rights" groups often insist on calling every sexual offense an "assault", even 17-year-olds consentually sleeping with 15 year-olds. Here's what we do know here:
    • He's registering for what indeed may be a serious child molesting offense, but from 22 years ago

    • His only convictions since then are for failure to register

    • He had registered within 30 days of the date on which he was supposed to register again, and had not moved. Law enforcement had all of his correct contact information.

    On the other hand:
    • A registration offense is not a strike in California (AFAIK), so he had to have committed another strikable felony somewhere for this to count as a third strike.

    • The 3rd District already tried to overturn this guy's sentence once before:

      In July, the state Supreme Court reversed the 3rd District for ruling that Carmony's trial judge had abused his discretion in refusing to strike two prior convictions. The court also sent the case back and ordered the 3rd District to render a ruling on the constitutional issue.

      In doing so, state Supreme Court Justice Carlos Moreno, joined by Justice Ming Chin, reluctantly concurred with the majority, "subject to the caveat that the sentence may yet be overturned on constitutional grounds."

    If anything, I think this will make TalkLeft's long-standing point that mandatory minimums, and lack of judicial discretion for individual cases, is a bad thing. One size does not fit all. Cases like this are exactly why judges need to decide sentences based on individual circumstances.

    Re: Calif. Appeals Ct. Overturns Sentence for Fail (none / 0) (#5)
    by scarshapedstar on Wed Mar 30, 2005 at 11:34:04 AM EST
    Wow, real original observation, Narius.

    Re: Calif. Appeals Ct. Overturns Sentence for Fail (none / 0) (#6)
    by Johnny on Wed Mar 30, 2005 at 05:52:43 PM EST
    Narius, sex crime is a totally subjective defintion, and it varies state to state. Age of consent, differences in ages of the partners etc all differ. The quickest way to create a monster is to accuse a 17 year old of "assault" for having consensual sex with a 15 year old.

    sex offender mistreatment (none / 0) (#8)
    by tomebaden on Fri Dec 19, 2008 at 02:15:57 AM EST
    This is a very scary case. Imagine the judge that meted out such  sentance. Evil judges! This guy had already registered! Insanity!  No wonder we have so many poeple doing 25 to life or more who have never commited a single violent crime intheir life under the three strikes law!  Insane!

    http://meganslaw.angelfire.com is a site for sex offender issues and has lots of youtube videos.

    Striking out on technical violation (none / 0) (#9)
    by tomebaden on Sun Dec 21, 2008 at 06:58:32 PM EST
    This sentance was given in two parts. He was struck out on the three strikes law because to our shame in california a strikable able need not be violent and with two prior strikes the third need not be violent or serious at all.

    Carmony got 25 to life for the strike and 1 year for he failure to register.

    Considereing that non-violent two strikers (burglary) have been struck out for shoplifting, I don't know of any decision that has ruled this unconstitutional.  Carmonies prior crimes appear to have been violent or at least one of them a sexual assault on a 9 year old girl.

    If he had commited a shoplifting I wonder if they would have come to the same decision.

    They indicate that his crime was passive and technical and less serious than "uttering a no account check"

    "While a violation of section 290 is classified as a felony, the instant offense was a passive, nonviolent, regulatory offense that posed no direct or immediate danger to society. Defendant committed this offense by violating the annual registration requirement (former § 290, subd. (a)(1)(C)), having correctly registered the proper information the month before. Obviously, no change had occurred in the intervening period and defendant's parole agent was aware of this fact. Thus, because defendant did not evade or intend to evade law enforcement officers, his offense was the most technical and harmless violation of the registration law we have seen. "

    What is telling in this case is the trial courts willingness to impose such a sentance. I am sure they do it alot for third strikes that are misdemeanors and they probably did not think twice about this one. That is how cold blooded our legal system is today.  Carmony is not likely to be high on anyones list of friends because of his assault on a little girl but he was relatively young when he did that and apparently it ruined his life already.  

    our legal system is evil and we need to wake up and put a stop to this kind of sentancing before we lose the ability to have them overturned as cruel and unusual.