Stanford Law Students Win Release For Third Striker Who Stole Food From Church

Gregory Taylor was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison for stealing food from his church. It was his "third strike" under California law.

Stanford University Law School's Three Strikes Project, which is dedicated to representing offenders sentenced to life under California's harsh three strikes law, filed a habeas petition for him.

A California judge yesterday ordered Taylor's release, reducing his sentence to 13 years...time served. His prior offenses:

He was convicted of third-strike burglary due to convictions of robbery twice in the 1980s, once for stealing a purse containing $10 and once for trying to rob a man on the street. He didn't use a weapon in either case, and no one was injured.


The legalese:

Taylor's attorney argued that the crime was at most misdemeanor trespassing because Taylor thought he had the right to take food, but the judge at the time refused to let him present that argument to the jury.

The 2nd District Court of Appeal upheld that decision, questioning whether a "claim of right" defense could ever be valid and saying Taylor could not have honestly believed he had the right to break into the church. The state Supreme Court ordered the lower court to reconsider the conviction and life sentence.

Students with the Stanford Three Strikes Project say they have identified 400 cases such as Taylor's. They've had several successes. Among their losses:

The Stanford Three Strikes Project recently lost two cases — one for a man who stole a pair of socks and another for a man convicted of having 0.1 grams of methamphetamine, Martinez said.

More than 4,000 inmates are serving three strike sentences in California for non violent crimes.

Past and current Clinic clients have been given life sentences for minor offenses including stealing one dollar in loose change from a parked car; for writing bad checks; and for simple possession of less than a gram of narcotics.

Here are the basics of California's three strike law.

Three strikes laws are expensive, they wastes prison resources on people who don't deserve life sentences, and they seem to be implemented in a racially discriminatory manner.

In 2004, ten years after the law was enacted, statistics showed:

One quarter of California prisoners are serving life terms under the three-strikes law, at a cost so far of about $8.1 billion. More than half that amount was spent to warehouse offenders whose third strike was not a violent crime.

California voters had a chance to reform the law in 2004 with Proposition 66, which would have limited application of three strike laws to cases where the third strike was a violent offense, and the effort failed. Supported by California's powerful prison guard union, opponents relied on dubious claims that "hardened criminals" would receive "get-out-of-jail-free passes."

Richard Temple, a political consultant who ran the No on 66 campaign, noted that every campaign "needs a good message, money and a good message carrier.''

All three came together in late October, when Orange County billionaire Henry T. Nicholas, Schwarzenegger and the state's prison guards union all agreed to contribute big bucks and Schwarzenegger agreed to star in a commercial. Another ad featured John Bunyard, an inmate nicknamed the "Nob Hill Rapist," who the proposition's opponents argued would be eligible for release from prison under Prop. 66.

In May, the New York Times Magazine had this analysis of California's law and reform efforts. It refers to another chance Californians may have to reform the law via a ballot initiative... in 2012.

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  • Display: Sort:
    Perfect storm of (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by mexboy on Tue Aug 17, 2010 at 05:29:16 AM EST
    greed, ignorance, fear-mongering and big money came together to pass this regressive proportion and prop 8.

    Way to go Stanford Law!... (5.00 / 3) (#2)
    by kdog on Tue Aug 17, 2010 at 07:50:09 AM EST
    Keep up the good work...humanity needs all the help it can get.

    Life for Stealing Food ??????????? (5.00 / 2) (#3)
    by ScottW714 on Tue Aug 17, 2010 at 07:56:37 AM EST
    Has California lost it's fricken mind, no wonder they are broke as a joke.

    Schwarzenegger, there is 8 Billion dollars for you, just use a little common sense and pardon these non-violent lifers.

    I wonder how many non-violent offenders committed violent crimes because they had nothing to lose, it's life with or without the gun.  

    playing devils advocate (none / 0) (#4)
    by nyjets on Tue Aug 17, 2010 at 09:29:17 AM EST
    And how many people choose not to commit crimes because they knew it would mean life.

    You sound like Javert (5.00 / 1) (#5)
    by MKS on Tue Aug 17, 2010 at 10:17:47 AM EST
    I'm glad this Jean Valjean was freed.

    The Guy Stole Food. from a Church. (5.00 / 2) (#6)
    by ScottW714 on Tue Aug 17, 2010 at 10:43:04 AM EST
    I would have to think life was on his mind if he stole food from a church.  Unless church has changed since my last visit a decade ago, the food sucks.  But even if he stole a Steak from a Steak House, life is absurd.  I would think there is also a Constitutional issue hear or cruel and unusual punishment.

    It's ridiculous no matter how you look at it.  This type of extreme justice  that wasn't even practiced in Medieval Times.  The state of California spends in excess of $50k a year to house this man and others in the same situation.

    Making any arguement of justification is not only bizarre, it's just plain dumb.


    Is there ever an instance (none / 0) (#13)
    by Chuck0 on Tue Aug 17, 2010 at 04:09:27 PM EST
    where you aren't fellating law enforcement and government overreach when it comes to crime or the so-called "justice system"?

    It took a while, (5.00 / 1) (#8)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Tue Aug 17, 2010 at 12:48:34 PM EST
    but I think this is the basis of the sentence reduction by the judge:
    In the petition, the students contended that Taylor's public defender failed to adequately investigate mitigating circumstances, including his having been abused and neglected as a child.

    The trial judge also incorrectly instructed jurors, telling them that if the circumstantial evidence is equal between the defendant's guilt or innocence, they should vote for guilt -- the opposite of what he should have told them, the students wrote.

    Stealing food from a church (5.00 / 0) (#9)
    by Untold Story on Tue Aug 17, 2010 at 12:54:43 PM EST
    Does one have to say anything more?

    Tax these churches and places of worship as they certainly do not represent compassion, tolerance, help to the downtrodden even in the time of need.

    The name of the church should be published and it should be boycotted for such inhumane action.

    In lieu of these so-called places of worship, we could have community centers where people actually do get help.

    Social clubs reinforcing (none / 0) (#10)
    by MKS on Tue Aug 17, 2010 at 01:53:33 PM EST
    people's claims to cultural hegemony.....that's all they are....

    So much for the Sermon on the Mount.....  


    Why be such a hater? (none / 0) (#11)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Tue Aug 17, 2010 at 03:41:08 PM EST
    At his trial, the church's priest testified on his behalf. The Rev. Alan McCoy of St. Joseph's Church said it "would not be just or merciful" to sentence Taylor to live in prison. Taylor, he said, was a "peaceful man" and "a very good person who may have made mistakes," according to a report in the Los Angeles Times.
    At Taylor's trial, Fr. Allan McCoy, the parish priest, testified that he had often given Taylor food and let him sleep at the church occasionally. But Taylor was convicted of burglary, and because he had two prior "strikes" against him, he was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. The harsh punishment was handed down despite a plea by McCoy, technically the "crime victim," against imposing a three-strikes sentence.
    The church's pastor, the Rev. Alan McCoy, testified at the original sentencing that Taylor was often given food and allowed to sleep at the church. The priest described him as a peaceful man struggling with homelessness and crack addiction.
    Taylor, now 37, was spotted by security guards in July 1997 using a board to try to open a screen over the kitchen door of St. Joseph's Church in Los Angeles between 4 and 4:30 a.m. The door was slightly damaged.

    Taylor told a policeman he knew a priest at the church and was trying to enter the kitchen to get something to eat. In addition to food, the church had such valuable items as chalices and alms boxes, the court said. At the trial, a pastor, Father Allan McCoy, said he had known Taylor for about nine years and would often find Taylor waiting for him outside the church when he left for work around 5:40 a.m.

    Taylor usually asked for a ride and sometimes for food, and McCoy would usually accommodate him, he said. Taylor had also been allowed to sleep in a church building in the past, but not for the previous six to 12 months, the court said.

    Taylor was convicted of burglary for entering the kitchen to steal. He had two previous robbery convictions, in the 1980s, and a 1988 parole violation, said Deputy Attorney General Chung Mar.

    He was sentenced under the three-strikes law, which requires a term of 25 years to life for any felony committed by a defendant with two previous serious or violent felony convictions. Superior Court Judge James Dunn declined to use his authority to disregard one or both of Taylor's past convictions, which would have lessened his sentence. He said the jury must have concluded Taylor meant to steal the church's valuable possessions. The dissenting justice, Earl Johnson, disagreed, noting that McCoy opposed a three-strike sentence for Taylor, and several jurors offered to testify for a lighter sentence. SFGate, 4/26/99.

    At trial, Samuel Flores testified that he and another security guard, Lam, were
    employed to patrol a six-block area of the Los Angeles Fashion District. They made the
    same rounds on foot, or in a car, every hour or so. At about 3 a.m., they had examined
    the kitchen door of St. Joseph's Church at close range with a flashlight. There was no
    damage to the door.
    At 4 to 4:30 a.m., they came upon appellant in the alcove of the church door.
    For about two minutes from about fifty feet away, they watched him attempt to pry open
    the metal security screen over the church's kitchen door. Appellant was using a long,
    two-by-four-inch board as a lever. He also had inserted two smaller wooden pegs
    between the door and the door jam. The security guards walked up to him and detained
    him and he removed the long board and one peg from the door. Both the guards and the
    police officer responding to make the arrest described there was damage to the door under
    its doorknob -- the door was pried up and sticking out about two inches.1

    Do you think that perhaps (none / 0) (#14)
    by Untold Story on Tue Aug 17, 2010 at 08:45:31 PM EST
    a 'spiritual' person, rather than a 'religious' person, might have had the innate sensitivity to realize this man was homeless and did not have food to eat, rather than send him out on the street, or, give him food when it was convenient for them and for which he had to ask?

    Perhaps if this religious group of priests had contacted some secular group, a true humanitarian organization, someone may have found a shelter for him and food - perhaps even help in drug addiction.  What a thought!

    Instead they did nothing.  Worried about their gold chalice and not the human being starving on their doorstep - the doorstep to the house of their god.

    Oh, I am sure if they didn't press charges, no charges would have been pursued.  They appeared i their self-righteous selves to pass their opinion on the character of this poor, deprived, soul.


    Oy. (none / 0) (#15)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Tue Aug 17, 2010 at 10:42:03 PM EST
    It's not even worth my time to show how many ways you are wrong in that comment. But hey, you look for wrong like there's a reward for it. I assume you feel rewarded...

    That is your opinion (none / 0) (#16)
    by Untold Story on Wed Aug 18, 2010 at 08:56:51 AM EST
    and my opinion.  Please try to respect opinions rather than getting personal - you may feel 'rewarded' yourself!

    It's not my opinion that you are (none / 0) (#17)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Wed Aug 18, 2010 at 11:16:13 AM EST
    talking completely out of your butt about this story and scrambling to rationalize and justify your original acidic comments in the face of the actual facts.

    You can hate the Catholic Church and/or organized religion all you want, but you can't have your own facts about this story.


    Know your history is YOU HAVE (none / 0) (#18)
    by Untold Story on Wed Aug 18, 2010 at 11:40:07 AM EST
    TO HAVE THE LAST WORD - so be it!

    However, your opinion is based on your interpretation of the article.  I hold my opinion on my interpretation of the same article.

    If you feel that accusing me of hating the Catholic Church somehow comes into this, that is again, just your opinion, not mine.

    I respect your opinion, and, kindly ask that you do likewise.


    Facts are not opinion. (none / 0) (#19)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Wed Aug 18, 2010 at 11:56:58 AM EST
    When presented with the facts you continue to try to support your original, acidic, misguided (some might call hateful) comments instead of merely saying OK, fair enough, I didn't know all the facts. It's just a dopey anonymouns blog, it can't that hard to admit.

    This is NOT a trial transcript (none / 0) (#20)
    by Untold Story on Wed Aug 18, 2010 at 12:29:43 PM EST
    get a hold on your sanity for heaven sakes!  

    It is summary of what was said - again second hand information NOT A TRIAL TRANSCRIPT - which I have compiled into my interpretation, and which, you, have compiled into your interpretation!


    That's just embarassing. (none / 0) (#21)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Wed Aug 18, 2010 at 12:43:21 PM EST
    I'm done.

    California is broke. (5.00 / 1) (#12)
    by Chuck0 on Tue Aug 17, 2010 at 04:06:28 PM EST
    And their insane three strikes law is one big reason for it. Everybody like to "get tough of crime" but they fail to realize the costs involved. For what California spends on each and every inmate in their prisons, they could send them all to college and provide a stipend to live on.

    Unless it invloves a rich man son or daughter (none / 0) (#7)
    by Saul on Tue Aug 17, 2010 at 11:38:45 AM EST
    I live in Texas.  Many moons ago like the 40's and 50's all the marijuana was associated with Hispanics.  That the majority of people using marijuana were Hispanics therefore the laws should be severe for using marijuana.

    Then behold came the 60's, the hippie generation.  So now who was smoking the pot?  Mostly whites and the sons and daughters of prominent citizens like governors, congressman and senators along with rich people.  All of sudden the severe laws against the use of marijuana were just to severe and they needed to be changed.  

    So when many of the rich people sons and daughters start going to long term jail sentences for petty crimes under the 3 strikes policy then they will say it is too severe.  I am totally against the 3 strikes and your out policy.