Monday, June 12, 2017

People v. Sperling (Cal. Ct. App. - June 8, 2017)

This opinion, and the underlying facts, are definitely interesting.

Justice Yegan begins the opinion with:  "In this extremely aggravated sexual assault case, . . ."  Oh boy.  I have read some incredibly serious sexual assault cases in my time.  Really, really serious.  I can only imagine what this one is going to be about.  My mind's eye imagines a series of events that are indeed disturbing.

Next I read:  "The dismissed counts were one count of oral copulation and two counts of anal and genital penetration by a foreign object."  Yep.  This is going to be incredibly ugly and serious.

Next:  "Amanda, the victim, is chronologically 25 years old. She is developmentally delayed with an intelligence quotient (IQ) of about 50. “She is blonde and petite and looks and acts like a child.”  My goodness.  So it's going to be vicious, violent abuse of someone like that.  Disgusting.

But it turns out that there's no gun, or punching, or stuff like that, all of which I was expecting from the introduction.  It's instead one of your classic "nonconsensual touching during a message" cases.  Which are absolutely criminal, but I was expecting something else.

The victim apparently suffers from Prader-Willi syndrome, the effects of which cause mental retardation and an insatiable appetite.  “People with this syndrome always feel hungry; no matter what they eat they are never full.” So the victim was "on a strict diet of 850 calories per day."

Okay, I guess that makes sense.  But then I read:  "As a reward for good behavior and 'for following her diet restrictions,' Amanda received a massage each Saturday. Appellant was the masseur."  Uh, okay, I guess.  I might have invented a different positive reinforcement technique, but if people in the field think this is a better technique, I guess I won't disagree.

Next sentence:  "During the massage, she was completely naked, but covered by a blanket.”

Really?  You've got a totally vulnerable person, intellectually disabled, and you're getting her naked very week?  Does that really seem wise?  I was a little dubious about the message to begin with, and thought we might have come up with something better.  But now I'm affirmatively worried.  Even before (as here) I know where this is going to end up since the story is recounted in the California Appellate Reporter.

So nonconsensual touching transpires, and the defendant is convicted.  Good.  You can't do that.  You deserve to be punished.  Inexcusable.

Though defendant tries to at least mitigate his punishment.  And does so successfully.  Imagine in your head a picture of the defendant.  What he looks like, his facial features, his background, etc.

Is this who you were thinking of?  "Appellant noted that he is 68 years old and 'has lived a crime free life up until now.' . . . [He] has Parkinson's disease and suffers from back pain."  He says that what he did was caused at least in part because he “was influenced by the medication he was taking for his Parkinson's disease. A side effect of this medication, Carbidopa-Levodopa, is increased sexual urges. He was taking a high dose of the medication, which caused him to have more sexual impulses."

The trial court ultimately sentences this 68-year old man to 8 years in prison, which is what the prosecutor requested and that constitutes the middle term for the relevant offenses.  That was after the "prosecutor asked that '[appellant] be given the benefit of his early plea and the fact that he waived prelim. [i.e., waived his right to a preliminary hearing].'”  Appellant appeals, claiming that his sentence was excessive.

The Court of Appeal not only affirms, but as you can perhaps tell by the strongly-worded language used in the introduction, isn't sympathetic at all.  Indeed, it drops a footnote that says:  "The appeal is frivolous."  And then also says in the text that "Appellant is fortunate that he was not sentenced to prison for the maximum 10-year term" rather than the eight years he received.

A strong reaction to the facts of this case.  Beyond the reaction that you normally see even in very serious domestic violence and murder cases.