Life in Prison for Forgetfulness?

Posted by Neil Shouse | Sep 27, 2009 | 0 Comments

People convicted of certain sex offenses in California become registered sex offenders for life. They must register with their local police department(s) every time they change their residence and every year within 5 days of their birthday.

Not completing these requirements subjects one to prosecution for Penal Code 290 Failure to Register as a Sex Offender. This is a felony punishable by up to 3 years state prison. Moreover, it counts as a strike under California three strikes law.

Many people prosecuted under Penal Code 290 already have one or two strikes on their record (stemming from the sex conviction(s) that led to the registration requirement). A two-striker who gets convicted of felony Failure to Register must go to prison for at least 25 years to life.

Not only are the Penal Code 290 requirements and penalties draconian, but California law recognizes very few excuses for failing to register. One such excuse that courts have rejected is simply “forgetting”.

Suppose Johnny, a registered sex offender, fails to do his annual registration within 5 days of his birthday. He genuinely and sincerely forgot. When he remembered, 2 weeks later, he rushed to the police department to register. If the D.A. decides to prosecute Johnny under Penal Code 290, his forgetfulness will not necessarily serve as a legal defense.

However, courts have suggested that medical conditions such as Alzheimer's disease or clinical memory impairment might be different. “We do not here express an opinion as to whether forgetfulness resulting from, for example, an acute psychological condition, or a chronic deficit of memory or intelligence, might negate the willfulness required for a section 290 violation.”

But what's clear is that simple human forgetfulness, even if genuine, does not get someone off the hook. It's a lapse of memory that could put someone away for life. (Refer to our article on "California "sex registry" residence requirements.")

About the Author

Neil Shouse

A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, Court TV, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.


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