Friday, February 1, 2008
Texas Court Cannot Make Sex Offender Register Here—C.A.
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
A California superior court exceeded its jurisdiction when it convicted a man for failing to register as a sex offender because he did not comply with a Texas court’s order to do so after moving to California, the First District Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.
Granting Lee Dale Crockett’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus, Div. Two held that a Mendocino Superior Court judge who convicted Crockett under Penal Code Sec. 290 for failing to register as a sex offender erred because he was not actually required to register under California law.
Crockett was convicted in 2001 by a Texas juvenile court of sexually abusing his brother, and placed on probation for eight years. Because he planned to move to Lake County in Northern California to reside with his mother, both Crockett and local officials requested services pursuant to the Interstate Compact for Juveniles, which provides statutory authority for monitoring the probation of juvenile offenders in states other than that in which they were sentenced.
One of the terms of Crockett’s probation was that he register as a sex offender in Lake County. However, Crockett failed to register in Lake County after moving, and similarly failed to register in Mendocino County after moving there.
Authorities in Mendocino County brought a felony charge against Crockett in 2004 for failing to register, and he pled guilty on the advice of counsel, a public defender. He was convicted and placed on probation.
In 2005, authorities in Lake County brought a similar charge, but the Lake Superior Court declined to hold Crockett to answer for the allegations, concluding that he was not required to register as a sex offender under California law.
The Mendocino Superior Court, apparently as a result of Crockett’s failure to register in Lake County, revoked his probation in 2006 and sentenced him to a term of 16 months in state prison, with credits for time spent in custody totaling 312 days.
Crockett filed a habeas corpus petition in Mendocino Superior Court, arguing that, while he was obligated by Texas law to comply with the conditions of probation set by the Texas court, his failure to register as a sex offender did not constitute a violation of Sec. 290. However, the court denied the petition, finding that the registration requirement followed him to California, and mooted any argument that he would not have been required to register if he had been convicted there.
Crockett then filed a habeas petition before the Court of Appeal in May of 2007, arguing that the Mendocino Superior Court had lacked jurisdiction to convict him in the first place.
Writing for the court, Justice James R. Lambden noted preliminarily that the three year delay between Crockett’s conviction and his petition to the Court of Appeal was excusable given that the jurisdictional argument did not become known to his counsel until the Lake court pointed it out, and because the only case directly relevant to the issue, In re Derrick B, (2006) 39 Cal.4th 535, was not published until August of 2006.
Lambden also noted that Crockett’s failure to directly appeal the conviction was not fatal to his habeas petition because he had alleged a fundamental jurisdictional defect, i.e., that the Mendocino court exceeded its jurisdictional authority when it convicted him.
Turning to Crockett’s conviction itself, Lambden agreed with Crockett that the Mendocino court had lacked subject matter jurisdiction to convict him and, in doing so, had exceeded its authority.
Applying the California Supreme Court’s analysis in Derrick B, Lambden wrote that Crockett could only be required to register as a sex offender for a juvenile offense under California law if he had also been incarcerated by the state’s Division of Juvenile Justice.
Pointing out that Crockett had not been sent to the equivalent Texas institution, Lambden concluded that Crockett therefore could not be required to register in California, even though his offense would otherwise be among those that could require registration if it had been committed in California.
“The terms of the [Interstate Compact on Juveniles] do not confer any special authority on a California court to require sex offender registration in California based upon the order of a Texas State juvenile court,” he wrote. “To the contrary, it actually prohibits California authorities from applying different supervision standards on petitioners than it would on its own juvenile probationers….
“While petitioner may have agreed to abide by the Texas State juvenile court’s conditions of probation in California, he nonetheless is not required to register as a sex offender under California law.”
In stating the court’s decision, Lambden rejected the state’s argument that a ruling in favor of Crockett would interfere with the functions of the Department of Justice sex offender registration database.
“Nothing in our ruling prevents law enforcement officers or our courts from vigorously enforcing section 290,” he said, “but they must do so only with regard to what the statute actually criminalizes.”
Presiding Justice J. Anthony Kline and Justice Paul R. Haerle joined Lambden in his opinion.
The case is In re Crockett, 2008 S.O.S. 718.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company