Wednesday, August 26, 2015

People v. Toloy (Cal. Ct. App. - Aug. 26, 2015)

Section 290 of the Penal Code requires that when certain people (e.g., sex offenders) are released from jail after serving a sentence of 30 days or more, these people must register their new (post-release) address with the local police department within five working days of their release.

Section 290.017a) of the Penal Code similarly provides that when these people are released from jail, these people "shall, prior to . . . release, be informed of his or her duty to register under the Act by the official in charge of the place of confinement."

You'd think those statutes are very closely related, right?

But the Court of Appeal holds that the latter statute is "directory, not mandatory".  In non-legalese, that means that even if (as here) the warden is required to -- but fails -- to inform the prisoner of his registration obligations, in violation of Section 290.017(a), that person can still be convicted of violating those registration obligations.  Even if, as a result of that express statutory directive, the person didn't know about those obligations.

POSTSCRIPT - There may be some dispute about what "not knowing" about these obligations means.  The Court of Appeal quoted a prior California Supreme Court case that said that "[A] violation of section 290 requires actual knowledge of the duty to register. A jury may infer knowledge from notice, but notice alone does not necessarily satisfy the willfulness requirement.”  So you might take that to mean that actual notice of the statute is required, but that as long as you have knowledge of the statute -- whether from a prior notice, or independent reading of casebooks, or whatever -- it doesn't matter that the mandatory notice under Section 290.017(a) was provided.  But, then again, defendant here admitted that "he had initialed a form informing him of that obligation when he reregistered in January 2014, but he maintained that he believed it applied only if he was a transient," and the Court of Appeal didn't seem to think that was a defense, so one might view that as taking a more limited view as to what constitutes sufficient "actual knowledge" to justify a conviction.  Maybe defendant was not credible, or maybe that's just not a defense to "actual knowledge".  But either way, it's surely better to give the required, mandatory warnings under Section 290.017(a) -- and to say that "actual knowledge" does all the work here is not as clear in this context as it might be in some others.