Thursday, April 29, 2010

One Lewd Act and It's Off to Prison for Life

On April 12, a judge in Nevada sentenced a 34-year-old woman to life in prison for kissing a 13-year-old boy, getting him to touch her breast through her clothes, and asking him for sex.

At trial, the woman admitted to roughhousing with the boy, but said she was intoxicated and did not remember more beyond that. Intoxication is of course not a defense, and committing lewd acts with a minor is no minor thing.

Even if she is released on parole after ten years, however, Michelle Lyn Taylor must register as a sex offender and be subject to lifetime supervision. As her defense attorney pointed out, Ms. Taylor's sentence is longer than if she had killed the boy.

From press accounts, it isn't clear why the district attorney chose to charge her under a statute carrying such a heavy mandatory minimum sentence, and why no plea bargain was offered. The jury was not told that a guilty verdict would carry such a severe sentence, and surely no one in the Legislature anticipated that the statute would be used this way. Too often, the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing in the American criminal justice system - and people's lives are unredeemably ruined as a result.

That's why Doug Berman, in his sentencing blog, notes that this could be a test case to probe the meaning in non-capital cases of the Eight Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Or is it possible, as Berman speculates, that there are additional facts about the case that have not been made public?

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