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September 15, 2011

Mandatory life (with parole) sentence for "lewdness with child under 14" before Nevada Supreme Court

The folks at Families Against Mandatory Minimums have this new press release spotlighting that a very interesting state mandatory minimum sentencing case is to be heard by the Nevada Supreme Court this afternoon.  Here are the basics:

[Michelle Lyn] Taylor, 34, was convicted under Nevada’s “life-for-lewdness” law in November 2009 for drunkenly forcing a 13-year-old boy to touch her breast and demanding (unsuccessfully) that the boy engage in sex.   Neither the judge, nor one of the original legislative sponsors of the lewdness law, felt the punishment fit the crime.  Still, the existence of the mandatory minimum law forced the court to sentence Taylor to life in prison with possibility for parole in 10 years....

FAMM noted in its [amicus] brief [available here] that Nevada is the only jurisdiction in the country that requires a mandatory life sentence for lewd conduct.  The majority of states provide punishment of between several months to five years in prison.  The minority of states that permit more severe penalties do so without utilizing mandatory minimum sentences anywhere near the life sentence required under Nevada law.  Indeed, only two states even allow, in the broad exercise of a sentencing court’s discretion, that a life sentence might be imposed for such conduct in the most egregious cases.

In addition to the remarkable facts involved in this Nevada case, I find the legal issues here quite fascinating in part because there is a claim here pressed based on the Nevada Constitution's prohibition of "cruel or unusual" punishment as well as one based on the Eighth Amendment prohibition on "cruel and unusual" punishments. In addition, for modern Eighth Amendment jurisprudence in the wake of the Supreme Court's recent ruling in Graham, it is unclear just how much constitutional significance there is to the fact (1) that this life term was a result of a mandatory sentencing provision, and (2) that the defendant is eligible for (and probably would receive) parole before the end of this decade.

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UPDATE: A helpful reader wisely suggested I tweak the title of this post to clarify that the offense of conviction in this notable case concened "lewdness with child" under the age of 14.  In addition, I thought it useful to link to the applicable Nevada statute and reprint its basic provisions:

Nevada Revised Section 201.230: Lewdness with child under 14 years; penalties.

1.  A person who willfully and lewdly commits any lewd or lascivious act, other than acts constituting the crime of sexual assault, upon or with the body, or any part or member thereof, of a child under the age of 14 years, with the intent of arousing, appealing to, or gratifying the lust or passions or sexual desires of that person or of that child, is guilty of lewdness with a child.

2.  Except as otherwise provided in subsection 3 [providing for mandatory LWOP for repeat offender], a person who commits lewdness with a child is guilty of a category A felony and shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for life with the possibility of parole, with eligibility for parole beginning when a minimum of 10 years has been served, and may be further punished by a fine of not more than $10,000.

September 15, 2011 at 11:38 AM | Permalink

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Comments

What harm did this victim suffer?

Shouldn't a crime cause harm to the person, damage to property or economic loss?

When I was three, I recall seeing the bare midriff of Elizabeth Taylor in a movie. I wanted her badly, and could not get her out of my mind. Had this taken place in Nevada, should the producers and Elizabeth Taylor have gone to prison for life, because of what they did "upon or with the body, or any part or member thereof," the body part being my eyes?

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Sep 16, 2011 4:30:12 AM

Thank you for clearing up the "with child" aspect. I was having a hard time comprehending that the state of Las Vegas had a mandatory life sentence for any offense involving lewdness.

Posted by: Def. Atty. | Sep 16, 2011 2:42:51 PM

We have got to stop this nonsense. During my divorce case I talked to my attorney about this. I'm just glad that divorce was not a criminal matter. This is truly "cruel and unusual" punishment.

Posted by: Paul | Oct 21, 2011 2:24:23 PM

The extreme amount of punishment is ABSURD!!!! The federal government needs to step in and revise laws such as this. There should be continuity of laws for every state. What the hell is Nevada thinking! How do they justify such a sentence? Do they not trust their judges at all to not give them any ability to sentence appropriately?

Posted by: Mike | Apr 29, 2014 10:04:45 PM

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