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Parolee Limited by GPS and Residency Can Sue California

8-1-2013 California:

California must face claims that it violated the civil rights of a convicted sex offender by conditioning parole on a residency restriction and GPS monitoring, the 9th Circuit ruled.

William Thornton faced these parole restrictions even though his convictions in California were not sex-related. Thornton was convicted of California in 2006 for buying or receiving stolen property, and later for robbery.

Both times the Golden State imposed residency and GPS monitoring restrictions as conditions of Thornton's parole release from prison because of Thornton's 1987 guilty plea in Tennessee to sexual battery.

In 2012, a California appeals court prohibited "blanket enforcement" of the residency restriction, but it found that the state's Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation could impose the condition on a parolee after considering his individual circumstances.

Under Section 3003.5(b) of California's Sexual Predator Punishment and Control Act of 2006, also known as Jessica's Law or Proposition 83, registered sex offenders may not "reside within 2000 feet of any public or private school, or park where children regularly gather."

The provision that requires electronic monitoring by a GPS devise is codified in Sections 3000.07(a) and 3004(b).

Thornton challenged the parole conditions during his second prison term in California, but a federal judge in San Diego dismissed the complaint after finding that Thornton could seek relief only through habeas corpus.

A divided three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit reversed Wednesday, finding that the lower court misinterpreted the U.S. Supreme Court's resolution of Heck v. Humphrey.

In that 1994 decision, the justices held that a suit must be classified as a habeas corpus action if "the plaintiff in a federal civil rights action is challenging the legality of his conviction, so that his victory would require his release even if he had not sought that relief." Such an action must then be dismissed if the plaintiff has failed to exhaust his state remedies, under the doctrine.

The 9th Circuit said Wednesday that only its sister circuit in Chicago has considered applying the Heck doctrine to federal civil rights actions under Section 1983 that challenge parole conditions.

"Consistent with Supreme Court precedent and that of our sister circuit, we hold that such an action is not barred by Heck if it is not a collateral attack on either the fact of a parolee's confinement as a parolee or the parolee's underlying conviction or sentence," Judge Susan Graber wrote for the majority. "Because we conclude that petitioner's action is not such an attack, we reverse and remand."

State, parole board and parole officers do not have qualified or absolute immunity from Thornton's injunctive relief, according to the ruling.

On remand, Thornton "may assert his nonmonetary claim arising from the allegedly discriminatory enforcement of his parole conditions," Graber added.

Judge Sandra Ikuta said she would have affirmed and not created a circuit split.

"Here, if Thornton were successful in his challenge to the parole conditions imposed by the CDCR, it would necessarily imply the invalidity of a portion of his sentence," Ikuta wrote.

"Because Thornton was sentenced under § 1170 for his 2010 robbery offense, his sentence necessarily included the term and conditions of parole set by the CDCR," she added. "In challenging his parole conditions, then, Thornton is challenging a statutorily mandated component of his sentence, and if he is successful, it would necessarily imply the invalidity of a portion of his sentence. Therefore, under the rules explained in Dotson, he may not bring this challenge under § 1983."

Ikuta also warned that district courts "will have no idea what to make of the majority's Delphic guidance as they confront § 1983 suits challenging various kinds and permutations of parole conditions." ..Source.. by LISA COSTON

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