In Re Coley: “Three Strikes Law” Applies to Defendant for Failing to Register as a Sex Offender

Aug 9, 2010

On Wednesday, August 4th, the Second Appellate Court denied a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, effectively allowing the Three Strikes Rule to apply to the case of the defendant, Willie Coley. The Court held that there had been no violation of the federal Constitution’s Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, where the defendant had a lengthy and serious criminal history.

Coley was convicted of failing to update his sex offender registration within five working days of his birthday and had been previously convicted of manslaughter, rape in concert, and robberies between 1978 and 2001. In light of these earlier convictions and in accordance with the Three Strikes Rule, the trial court sentenced Coley to 25 years to life.

Coley appealed on the grounds that this constituted cruel and unusual punishment and filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus with the California Supreme Court, citing People v. Carmony [People v. Carmony (2005) 127 Cal.App.4th 1066; (Carmony)]. In Carmony, the Third Appellate District held that invoking the Three Strikes law to trigger a sentence of 25 years to life violated the Eighth Amendment if the conviction that did so was for failing to update sex offender registration within five working days.

Coley’s petition was denied. Coley further challenged that his sentence was a violation of the Eighth Amendment. The United States Supreme Court assessed the case and found pursuant to Ewing v. California, the Court’s sentencing was justified by the state’s public safety interest [Ewing v. California (2003) 538 U.S. 11]. Coley’s long and serious criminal record qualified him as a recurrent offender and therefore incapacitating him, according to the court, was in the interest of the state’s public safety.

This case is: In re Coley; C.A. 2nd; August 4, 2010; B224400.