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March 2, 2010

Prosecutors urged lighter sentence in 2000 for sex offender suspected in missing California teen case

A helpful reader forwarded to me this new AP story, which is headlined "Man in Calif. teen case got light sentence in 2000," that provides an interesting sentencing backstory to the latest missing teen case generating the usual cable crime news buzz. Here is how the piece begins:

A sex offender suspected in the disappearance of Chelsea King served only five years in prison for molesting a girl a decade ago after prosecutors rejected a psychiatrist's advice to seek a stiffer punishment, court documents state.

Prosecutors said in 2000 that John Albert Gardner III's lack of significant prior criminal record justified less than the maximum sentence for molesting a 13-year-old girl. They also said they wanted to "spare the victim the trauma of testifying."

The San Diego Union-Tribune said Tuesday that Gardner had faced a maximum of nearly 11 years in prison under terms of his plea agreement. Prosecutors urged six years — the sentence later ordered by a judge.

March 2, 2010 at 03:22 PM | Permalink

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Comments

Uh-oh. Trouble for you let-the-doors-swing-wide crowd.

It only takes a few McDuffs to get the point across to people.

Posted by: Ferris Bueller | Mar 2, 2010 4:57:51 PM

My son is a law enforcement officer that deals with these creaps daily. I do NOT know how he does it. How do we stop making the porn, that leads to this type of behavior, unavailable to the public. I am sick that my kids can't go outside and play because we don't know what lerks outside our doors. My heart breaks for this girls parents and family members. I have told my son he needs to start a self-defense or an awareness class for kids so that they have some hope if they are ever in a situation like this girl found herself in. I have always told my son to make sure if I die in a suspicious way to make sure they check under my fingernails because they WILL find something and my attacker would be scarred! It makes me so angry!!!

Posted by: Tracey | Mar 2, 2010 8:47:20 PM

UPDATE: Her corpse has been recovered. Gardner has been charged with rape and murder.

An object lesson that courts are poorly advised to follow too easily the government's pitch for leniency. Unserious prosecutors are a menace.

Also an object lesson that "incarceration nation" in some cases needs to get bigger, not smaller.

The state obviously saved money by not having a longer sentence for this man.

Was it worth it?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Mar 2, 2010 10:58:58 PM

Bill, Bill, Bill and his propaganda machine. Even if he got the full 11 years he would still be out by now because 85% of 11 = 9.35. So you will have to try another tact. How does mandatory minimums sound? Good idea? Already passed since 2000. What about GPS forever for everyone released ? Already passed since 2000.

But here is the real zinger. Mandatory civil commitment for all sex offenders all over the nation. Let's just dump the ex post facto clause.

Do you support a civil commitment law that places registered sex offenders in jail for life?

Yes. Sex offenders should be locked up for life.
No. We must have faith in the legal system and modern medicine.

That even though the actual sex crime recidivism rate in California is shockingly low and that recidivism rate undoubtedly includes some crimes that are not nearly as tragic. Yet, the conservative radio man wants to lock up all the other 96% for life.

I'm telling ya, this learned helplessness may work on animals forever when they are punished for what others do, but humans can figure other ways to go, which is why so many experts say too many laws are doing more harm than good.

This is another tragic case made all the more tragic by the standard manipulations that didn't work before and will not work now. Eric Janus gets it right: FAILURE TO PROTECT: America's Sexual Predator Laws and the Rise of the Preventive State .

Posted by: George | Mar 3, 2010 12:06:52 AM

A statute should enable the tort of negligent plea dealing and negligent sentencing. The burden would be to prove that the plea deal or sentencing deviated from prosecutor or judge standards of due care.

This case would also have scienter, "...after prosecutors rejected a psychiatrist's advice to seek a stiffer punishment..." and subject the defendant prosecutors and judge to exemplary damages.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Mar 3, 2010 12:51:16 AM

George --

This was not merely "tragic." It was a crime and a preventable one, had the law been sufficiently stern, the prosecutor sufficiently serious, and the judge sufficiently wise, to have sentenced this guy to a much longer sentence the first time around. So I will again ask the question you whistled past: The state obviously saved money by not having a longer sentence for this man. Was it worth it?


Posted by: Bill Otis | Mar 3, 2010 3:01:02 AM

bill, im not even sure money was saved--they have to retry him

Posted by: federalist | Mar 3, 2010 7:37:02 AM

Bill, provide a link to the sentencing transcript that proves the only consideration was money and I'll answer your question. Until then, I say the propaganda is sick.

Posted by: George | Mar 3, 2010 12:28:51 PM

Bill, maybe the problem is that courts are too easily swayed by the prosecutions recommendation period.
But you probably wouldn't like that, because then prosecutors sometimes ridiculously harsh recommendations wouldn't be followed as easily either.

Posted by: KRG def attny | Mar 3, 2010 1:41:29 PM

Our torture cheerleader "whistles past" what the main issue the free-thinkers have with the "incarceration nation." By ratcheting up the penalties for crimes across the board at every opportunity, the useful fools and handmaidens of the prison-industrial complex necessarily cause dangerous people to spend less time locked up. By all means, come down with righteous harshness on crack pipes, marijuana cigarettes, and petty thieves. Understand when you do so, however, the boogyman will necessarily be released.

Posted by: Mark # 1 | Mar 3, 2010 1:45:31 PM

Mark is not wrong on this one Bill. Punishing crack 100 times more severely than coke and punishing possession of a "drug" like marijuana at all fills those McDuff beds up stupidly.

Posted by: Ferris Bueller | Mar 3, 2010 2:29:12 PM

Time and time and time again we have seen here the argument that sentences should be shorter because incarceration costs too much. What we have seldom if ever seen is an honest admission by those making this argument that shorter sentences ALSO HAVE A COST.

This case is a horrifying example of that cost.

If Warner had been imprisoned for a much longer time for his first sex offense (against a 13 year-old), Chelsea King would be alive today. But the shorter sentence he actually served saved money, probably a lot of it.

Mark # 1: Was it worth it? No lectures, no talking points. Was it worth it?

KRG: Was it worth it?

Ferris: Where in the world is the evidence that crack sentences had anything to do with Warner's sentence?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Mar 3, 2010 3:44:37 PM

Bill, George brings up the point (correctly, as far as I can see) that even if he got the max in the former case, he'd still be out now. Until we sentence everyone to life for every crime, there are going to be people who get out and reoffend. Your "Was it worth it?" refrain is essentially meaningless, given the prior history.

So what are you advocating? LWOP for all felonies? How can you tell who's going to reoffend and who's not?

Posted by: arx | Mar 3, 2010 6:50:26 PM

Bill--

Who's to say Gardner didn't progress from molestation to rape and murder at least in part because of what he experienced while being caged for five years?

Or that if he'd done the 11 years and then killed, we wouldn’t be hearing (if not from Bill from folks like the officer's mother) that he should have done 15 or 20...or life...for molestation?

Molestation is a crime, to be sure, but still toward the front end of the SO continuum.

Yet if only risk-averse punishments (those capable of preventing hysteria and scorn engendered by cases like Gardner's) will suffice, you don't need "serious prosecutors" for that. Monkeys could be trained to impose the max on every convict.

Sentences fixed by humans attempting to balance reverence for individual liberty with broader security concerns will sometimes fail the monkey test.

Money could be diverted from criminal-justice industries to treatment for those whose actions seem to stem more from innate impulses than evil intent. But of course that would make us soft on crime.

Posted by: John K | Mar 3, 2010 7:14:26 PM

Bill, I don't think that "time and time and time again" we see people advocating for child molesters to get out early or get shorter sentences. You mis-characterize arguments and apply them to situations nobody has intended to apply them to.

Posted by: DEJ | Mar 3, 2010 9:45:35 PM

DEJ --

"I don't think that 'time and time and time again' we see people advocating for child molesters to get out early or get shorter sentences."

Really? Check out the comment immediately preceding yours. It directly implies that we'd be better off if Gardner had recieved LESS of a sentence for his child molestation, which, we are then told, is toward the less troublesome end of the sex offense continuum anyway.

"You mis-characterize arguments and apply them to situations nobody has intended to apply them to."

See above. John K is in error, but that doesn't make him a "nobody."

This is what really goes on: There are at least two long-running and active themes on this forum. One is that we should substantially reduce prison sentences to save money. The other is that sex offenses are treated too harshly (because the country consists of puritanical jerks; or it's all just urinating in public; or (as John K says, see above) it's really just "innate impulses" (I guess like blinking your eyes), not "evil intent;" etc.). You've seen this stuff as often as I have, which is all the time.

We now have a case in which these themes were put in action. Gardner's first crime was "merely" molestation and was therefore treated with a lenient attitude (plus actually leniency); and Gardner's relatively short sentence certainly saved the taxpayers the money they would have had to spend on a longer one.

Was it worth it?

I suspect you're going to stonewall on that question just as the other let's-reduce-prison expenses commenters have done.

And why?

Because the only honest answer is that any sane or even vaguely moral system resolves uncertainly about recidivism (or, as here escalation) in favor of the victim, not the criminal. Here that was not done. It saved money, that's for sure. But at a horrendous cost, a cost your side (not you personally, but your side) is too dishonest to admit or even acknowledge.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Mar 3, 2010 11:14:22 PM

"Because the only honest answer is that any sane or even vaguely moral system resolves uncertainly about recidivism (or, as here escalation) in favor of the victim, not the criminal."

Well, that's nonsense. I reject the idea that the law is a battle between a "victim" and a "criminal". Certainly those are players but it's not an either/or situation.

You make too much out of this case. Once again you are arguing policy based upon an OUTLIER. In a country of 300 million people stuff like this is going to happen by random chance. The question of whether it's worth it or not is irrelevant. It's going to happen no matter what we do. To my mind all you do is help the press sell more papers by pandering to America's Ripley's "Believe it or Not!" syndrome.

For once, let's make policy based upon sanity and not insanity.

Posted by: Daniel | Mar 4, 2010 12:07:05 AM

Bill--

A number of posters, including me, dodged your "was it worth it" loaded question; You dodged my straight-foward question.

Gardner entered prison a molestor and came out an accused rapist/killer. So again, who's to say his prison experience wasn't a factor in the transition?

Of course I'm not surprised by your characteristic distortions and mischaracterizations. But I didn't say Gardner's sentence was too harsh; I said a longer sentence wouldn't have satisfied the punishment lusts of some folks, possibly including you.

And call me crazy, but noting that molesters are nearer the beginning of the SO continuum than, say, serial rapists and sex killers hardly seems like a wild flight of fancy.

As for the money-saving argument, I suspect people like me see it is the only tack that might have traction with people like you.

You also did a good deal of violence to my carefully worded comment about innate impulses. But it's OK. Again, it's what I've come to expect.

Posted by: John K | Mar 4, 2010 12:23:58 AM

BINGO john the same argument could be made in the case before the u.s. supreme court now! where the fed is saying they can now lock up sex offenders for life because they are crazy.

never mind the fact that they were sane enough to go to trial. get a sentence. SERVE that sentence. but only upon release are they now CRAZY!

Sounds to me like PRISON is what's MAKING THEM CRAZY and MORE DANGEROUS.

Posted by: rodsmith3510 | Mar 4, 2010 11:28:40 AM

John K --

"A number of posters, including me, dodged your 'was it worth it' loaded question; You dodged my straight-foward question....Gardner entered prison a molestor and came out an accused rapist/killer. So again, who's to say his prison experience wasn't a factor in the transition?"

No one.

There's your direct answer. Where's mine?

Of course there's more to it. First, you suggest no factual basis whatever for believing that Gardner's prison experience made him a rapist/killer -- zip, nada, none. Nor is there any even as a general matter; indeed what we are told here is that the recidivism rate for sex offenders is LOWER than for the average offender after his release.

Second, your implicit suggestion (that prison increases rather than lowers crime) would lead, not to lesser prison sentences, but none at all.

Finally, I quoted accurately your suggestion for "treatment for those whose actions seem to stem more from innate impulses than evil intent." You made this remark in the context specifically of this Gardner case thread, implying (though not stating directly) that Gardner was or could plausibly be seen as such a person -- i.e., a person who acted from innate impulses rather than evil intent. But if that were not enough, I referred directly to your comment itself, which is about ten inches above mine on the screen. This enabled anyone in doubt to make up his own mind about whether my quotation from you was accurate.

Now, again, having Gardner serve a relatively short sentence for his first sex crime saved money that would have been needed to fund a longer one. Was it worth it?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Mar 4, 2010 5:37:44 PM

Yes yes obey the almighty law and follow the leader!! PLEASE

Posted by: Ben awarei | Mar 9, 2010 8:58:11 PM

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