Thursday, January 20, 2011

People v. Armas (Cal. Ct. App. - Jan. 18, 2011)

This just seems out of whack to me.

I'm not complaining about the Court of Appeal's resolution of the case.  That seems just fine.  But to me, the underlying facts demonstrate just how out of whack we've made the sex registration regime.

Jose Armas pleads nolo contendre to a count of lewd conduct with a person under 14.  Apparently his wife came home and discovered him with his ten-year hold stepdaughter in bed without any underwear, and Jose admitted to the police officers that he was "turned on" when his stepdaughter removed his underwear and that had his wife not interrupted them, "it could have gone further."  Yuck.

Armas gets sentenced to probation and is immediately released after sentencing.  Now, I don't know all the facts, but to me, that seems like a pretty light sentence.  But what do I know?

What I do know is that Armas has to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.  As does Armas.  So he's released on July 24th and, four days later, he goes to the Sheriff's station to register.  Apparently they only register people at that station on Wednedays (!), so the deputy gives Armas a piece of paper to prove that he tried to register, and tells him to come back the next Monday (?).  Two days later, Armas faithfully goes to his probation officer, shows his piece of paper, and is reminded to make sure he shows up to register on Monday.  On Monday, Armas does what he's supposed to do:  he shows up, registers, tells the officers where he's living (in a flophouse on Whittier Boulevard for which he has a voucher), and leaves.

Jose's vouchers run out several days later, and while he might have had enough money to stay a couple of more nights, he eventually has to leave, and starts staying at a shelter in L.A.  His probation officer, however, had sent Armas a letter a week after his registration to the hotel, which was returned as undeliverable.  So the probation officer called Armas, and Armas dutifully answered.  The officer tells Armas that since he's now a transient, he has to reregister, and also tells Armas to come in the next week.  Armas says okay.  And, one week later, on August 26th, Armas indeed comes in, and tells his p.o. that he's staying at the shelter.  The officer then tells him that since the shelter's in the City (whereas the flophouse was only in the County), he's got to reregister at a different place.  Shucks.  A week later, Armas calls the officer with whom he initially registered in an attempt to make an appointment to reregister, and makes another call four days later for the same purpose.  But four weeks go by without him actually registering.

So they promptly arrest him.  And charge him with three counts of failing to register.

For which he's pretty clearly guilty.  He's given it a shot, mind you.  But hasn't actually done exactly what he's supposed to be doing.  And the fact that the authorities are always able to reach him via telephone, that he has consistently shown up to all of his meetings with his probation officer, etc. don't legally excuse him from the technical registration requirements.  So he's guilty.

So the court sentences him to the low term.  Which, in his case, amounts to three years in prison.

It just seems bizarre to me that a dude that gets probation for the actual offense gets three years for failing to register effectively in a setting such as this.  What he did initially was far worse than what he did thereafter.  Is he liable for both events?  Totally.  But the sentences for each just seem radically out of whack with both each other and with the respective moral culpability of each.

I'm sure this is the way the system works.  But it doesn't seem right.  On any level.  As a deterrent, as a retributivist scheme, etc.  Punishing the failure to register substantially more than the underlying offense, at least in a situation such as this one, seems wrong.