Thursday, September 12, 2019
Court of Appeal:
Opinion Draws Into Question Continued Viability of 1975 S.C. Opinion
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Sentencing an 88-year-old man to a prison term of 15 years to life based on two sexual assaults on a minor is not cruel or unusual punishment, Div. Three of the Fourth District Court of Appeal held yesterday, in an opinion that suggests a 1975 California Supreme Court decision is antiquated.
Yesterday’s unpublished opinion was authored by Justice Thomas M. Goethals. It upholds the sentence imposed by Orange Superior Court Judge Kimberly Menninger on Richard Villareal Arriola, who was 82 when he committed an act of sexual penetration on his 10-year-old goddaughter.
That act prompted the 15 years to life sentence; nine months later, he committed a lewd act on the child, for which the judge imposed a concurrent six year term.
“Arriola laments that his sentence of 15 years to life is a “de facto” life without parole sentence for an 88-year old man. That may indeed be true. Essentially any prison sentence imposed on an 88-year old man is a potential life sentence. Ultimately, Arriola’s argument focuses on his age at the time he was sentenced. We can do nothing to negate the march of Father Time.”
High Court Opinion
Arriola cited the California Supreme Court’s 1975 opinion in In re Rodriguez. There, Chief Justice Donald Wright (now deceased) minimized the gravity of a lewd and lascivious act on a child under the age of 14, in violation of the version of Penal Code §288 that was then in effect, saying:
“The offense committed here is by no means ‘trivial,’ but the method of its…commission involved no violence and caused no physical harm to the victim. The episode lasted only a few minutes. No weapon was involved and petitioner attempted none of the dangerous offenses sometimes associated with violations of section 288.”
The court declared that the 22 years the defendant had spent in prison was long enough, ordering his release.
“While we might agree with the proposition implied in Rodriguez that there are more serious crimes proscribed in the Penal Code, we disagree with any suggestion that this crime is anything less than horrific, or that it would not be profoundly damaging to its victim.”
He said in a footnote:
“Rodriguez, in which the Supreme Court ordered the petitioner freed from prison after 22 years, might best be described as the product of its time.”
Pointing to the Legislature’s enactment of the Sexually Violent Predator (“SVP”) Act in 1995 and the Sex Offender Punishment, Control, and Containment Act of 2006, as well as passage by voters in 2006 of Proposition 83—“Jessica’s Law”—he remarked:
“…California’s collective thinking on this issue has evolved in the years since Rodriguez. Both the Sex Offender Act and Jessica’s Law mandate substantially longer sentences for many sex offenses, while the SVP Act recognizes that offenders such as the petitioner in Rodriguez, who have an established history of committing sexual offenses and have also been diagnosed with a mental disorder that makes it likely they will reoffend, are no longer viewed in the same light.”
Goethals went on to say:
“Arriola also suggests that his individual characteristics, including the fact he had no prior convictions and was 88 years old at sentencing, rendered his sentence cruel and/or unusual as to him personally. Again we are not persuaded. Indeed, Arriola’s advanced age actually works against him in two ways. First, the cases in which a perpetrator’s age was considered a mitigating factor are those where the perpetrator was so young and immature that it could be argued he either did not fully appreciate the effect of his acts or had an impaired ability to control his conduct….Arriola falls at the opposite end of that maturity spectrum, and there is no evidence suggesting how his advanced age might have excused his conduct.
“Second, we note that the probable consequence of Arriola’s advanced age is that he is unlikely to serve even the initial 15 years of his indeterminate term. As he points out, he will likely die in prison. But that might well be true even if Arriola were sentenced to a shorter term, e.g., three or five years. Stated plainly, it is because Arriola chose to commit his heinous crimes very late in life that he will likely die in prison. That simple cause and effect relationship cannot be spun into a constitutional issue related to his punishment.”
The case is People v. Arriola, G055886.
Copyright 2019, Metropolitan News Company