California’s three-strikes sentencing law suffered a blow yesterday when a federal appeals court struck down as unconstitutional a 28-years-to-life sentence for a sex offender who failed to register with local police at the correct time of year, the Los Angeles Times reports. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit said that the sentence imposed on Cecilio Gonzalez was cruel and unusual punishment under the Constitution’s 8th Amendment. Gonzalez’s harsh sentence was grossly disproportionate to his “entirely passive, harmless and technical violation of the registration law,” the court said.
Registration infractions carry a maximum three-year sentence in California, and Gonzalez’s oversight wouldn’t even qualify as a crime in at least 11 states, wrote Circuit Judge Jay S. Bybee, one of the court’s more conservative judges. It was unclear how much significance the ruling would have for others sentenced to long terms for minor third offenses. “It does show that the courts are willing to reject really outrageously long sentences for very technical offenses,” said Gia Kim, the public defender who argued the case. “The opinion focused on the fact that this was a crime of omission and a crime of very little moral culpability.” Efforts to ease the three-strikes rule have largely failed. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2003 that it was a state legislature’s right to determine how best to deter criminal recidivism.