Wednesday, September 16, 2009
C.A.: Consecutive Sentences Violated ‘Jessica’s Law’
Panel Opts for Literal Reading of Statute Over ‘General Statement of Legislative Intent’
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
Legislation intended to increase penalties for the sexual abuse of children actually eliminated authority to impose full, consecutive sentences on those who molest multiple victims, the Third District Court of Appeal has ruled.
Justices Monday threw out a portion of the nearly 20-year sentence imposed by a Butte Superior Court judge on a man who pled no contest to sexual offenses involving four young children, and sent the case back to the trial court for resentencing.
Duke Austin Goodliffe pled no contest to two counts of molesting a child between the ages of 14 and 16, one count of forcibly molesting a child under the age of 14, and one count of bigamy in exchange for the dismissal of several other charges.
Judge Robert A. Glusman imposed consecutive upper-term sentences of eight years each for two offenses—one count each of molesting a child under the age of 14 and forcibly molesting a child under that age—plus one-third the middle terms for the other offenses, for an aggregate sentence of 19 years, four months.
In imposing full consecutive terms for two offenses, the judge cited Penal Code Sec. 667.6(c). As amended by Jessica’s Law, enacted in November 2006 as Proposition 83, the subdivision authorizes such sentences “if the crimes involve the same victim on the same occasion.”
The amendment replaced a 2002 provision that permitted full consecutive sentences for “each violation” of specified statutes “whether or not the crimes were committed during a single transaction.”
On appeal, the attorney general conceded that in Goodliffe’s case, consecutive sentences were imposed for crimes committed against separate victims. It was argued, however, that to read the initiative literally would create an absurd result, since it was the author’s intent to make it easier, not harder, to sentence child abusers to long prison terms.
Justice Coleman Blease rejected the argument, saying the court could not “rewrite subdivision (c) to reinsert language that Jessica’s Law repealed.”
The jurist distinguished People v. Pieters (1991) 52 Cal.3d 894.
Pieters held that a law imposing lengthy enhancements for possessing large quantities of drugs created an exception to an earlier law that generally limited an aggregate sentence to double the base term.
While a 1988 amendment specifically enacting that exception could not be applied to the defendant’s earlier crime, the court held, it would be absurd to hold that the Legislature originally intended to subject the enhancements to the double-the-base-term limitation, when the law specifically authorized enhancements that were longer than the base terms.
The same reasoning did not apply to the Jessica’s Law amendment to Sec. 667.6(c), Blease said, because “[n]o provision of section 667.6 would be rendered ineffective if subdivision (c) is given its literal meaning.”
“While the electorate’s general intent in enacting Prop. 83 was to strengthen and improve the laws that punish sex offenders...we cannot say that it did not intend that section 667.6, subdivision (c) not be given its literal meaning. This is particularly so where, as here, the drafters plainly intended to omit the ‘whether or not’ language.”
The case is People v. Goodliffe, C058588.
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