Monday, January 18, 2016

People v. Valenti (Cal. Ct. App. - Jan. 14, 2016)

You'll know where this case is going even when I just recite the first paragraphs of the statement of facts:

"In 1983, eight-year-old James K. met defendant at the Santa Monica Pier. James liked to break dance with his friends in Santa Monica and Venice while his father fished nearby. James approached defendant, who was photographing the break dancers, and asked defendant to take pictures of James and his friends, who were hoping to book a commercial. Defendant and James began to spend time together and soon, James’s 10-year-old sister, Alexis, asked to come along."

Yeah, that's right.  It's a molestation case.  The guy sexually abused 15 kids over a period of nearly 30 years.  The guy was a soccer coach in Lancaster, for goodness sake.  Oh, yeah.  One more tidbit.  "[D]efendant’s apartment was 'the place to be' for neighborhood boys . . . . He had stocked it with big screen televisions, video games, food, and candy. Defendant also took Justin and his friends to the desert to shoot BB guns. On the way, the boys took turns sitting on defendant’s lap to steer the car."


The ultimate end is what you'd expect.  Mr. Valenti's sentenced to ten years plus 120 years to life.  He gets some tiny relief in the Court of Appeal, but it won't matter.  He'll still die in prison.  And not have a good time during his residence there.

The Court of Appeal's factual recitation follows a predictable pattern, but there were a couple of surprising statements in there.

For example, after the first paragraph quoted above, which introduces 10-year old Alexis to the reader, Justice Lavin's opinion states:  "By 1986, defendant and Alexis had started dating. Alexis was 13 years old; defendant was 24."

Dude!!  That's a weird way to describe the interaction between someone who was 10 years old when she met an adult, and who's now only 13. "Dating".  A 24-year old doesn't "date" a 13-year old.  In common parlance, anyway.  A 24-year old might "molest" such a child, or "stalk" her, or "act inappropriately towards" her.  But "date"?!  That's a surprising way to describe it.

But what's perhaps even more surprising is the next sentence of the opinion:

"They married the following year, on August 11, 1987."


Alexis was 14.  Valenti was 25.  I didn't even know you could get married at 14 in California.  I thought that was the province of places like . . . well, I won't mention any particular state.  But I didn't think you could do such a thing here.

But, yeah, apparently, if you've got the consent of one of your parents, and go to court and get a judge to sign off on it, 14's perfectly okay.  Indeed, it appears that any age is okay in California.  Fourteen.  Twelve.  Seven.  Whatever you can convince a judge to sign off on.

I'd hate to be the judge and/or parent who signed off on the marriage here.  Not a wise move.  And I'd be very interested to hear what type of evidence was submitted on the point.  'Cause there's exceptionally little that one generally has to say on these matters, I'd think, except:  "Your honor, she's 14, he's 25.  Thank you very much."  Marriage denied.

Anyway, to reiterate, 15 molested kids.  Over decades.

You can read the entire opinion for details about the legions of children Valenti molested.  Disturbing, to say the least.

Can I just say again, by the way, that the defendant here married someone he met when he was 21 and she was 10, that he started "dating" her when she was 13, married her when she was 14, and that a judge signed off on all that?!

I'm generally a fan of consensual conduct.  So on many days, if you asked me whether anyone under, say, 16 should ever be allowed to marry, I might well prefer not to have an utterly categorical rule, and to think that there might be some unusual cases in which, say, an incredible mature 15-and-a-half-year old wants to get married to an exceptional 16-year old, and where everyone's parents appear totally informed and think it's a great idea, well, okay, maybe I can at least conceive of such a situation and think that maybe we should not take uniformly away their right to get married in every single such case.

But geeze.  This case makes me rethink that assumption.  Because a system that allows a 14-year old to marry a 25 year old she met when she was 10, and in circumstances like those here, make me think that the downsides of mistakenly allowing someone to marry an underage spouse might not be worth the upside in the exceptional case.

'Cause apparently we're far from perfect from screening out "upstanding" 25-year olds who want to marry a 14-year old girl he met when she was 10 from, say, a straight-up child molester.

Like Mr. Valenti.