Wednesday, November 20, 2013

People v. Tirey (Cal. Ct. App. - Nov. 15, 2013)

Law students often find constitutional law interesting, but somewhat challenging.  It's too highbrow.  The standards are too vague.  There are no determinate answers.  The opinions are starkly results-oriented.

All that's true.  To a degree.

But there are some cases that are nonetheless straightforward.  Obvious.  Beyond substantial dispute.

Here's one of them.

Criminals can occasionally become rehabilitated.  And, when they are, if they make a specified showing, they can obtain a certificate of rehabilitation.  For sex offenders, that's a pretty significant step.  Because, amongst other consequence, a certificate of rehabilitation relieves them from the lifetime requirement of registering as a sex offender.

But California law has a neat little twist.  If you're convicted of a sex offense with a very young child -- one that's ten years of age or younger -- you can get a certificate of rehabilitation.  By contrast, if you're guilty of a sex offense with a child under 14, you can't.

Which makes no sense.  Absolutely no sense.  It's just a crazy -- and presumably -- unexpected twist in the law that results from a statutory patchwork of cross-references to which the Legislature presumably paid no (or almost no) attention.

So Tirey -- who's been convicted of lewd conduct with two girls under 14 -- challenges the statute as a denial of equal protection.  He couldn't be more right.  There's no rational basis for the way this statute works.  A statute that gives a lesser punishment to a greater offense simply makes no sense.

The Court of Appeal agrees.  Striking down the statute and letting Tirey seek his certificate.

The California Attorney General's Office doesn't confess error.  It tries in vain to come up with arguments in defense of the statutory scheme.  They're silly.  They're wrong.  Constitutional law may be amorphous to a degree, but it's not infinitely malleable.  Even if you don't like sex offenders -- and the Court of Appeal surely does not -- the proper result here is crystal clear.

Some cases are easy.  Even when they involve striking down a statute as a violation of the Constitution.