In Nevada, the sentence of Michelle Lyn Taylor, 34, is attracting considerable debate. Taylor was convicted of lewdness with a minor under 14 after kissing a friend’s 13-year-old child, putting his hand on her breast, and offering to have sex with him. Her sentence? Life in prison.
Taylor is the latest example of how mandatory minimums can produce grotesque results. While what she did was wrong and deserved punishment, she has been given a longer sentence than some murderers and rapists in this country. Her public defender noted that she was wearing a bra at the time of the touching and Stacey Thoman, who actively participated in the sexual abuse of her daughter in another case, received only a four-to-20 year sentence.
Elko County District Attorney Gary Woodbury was unapologetic and noted that Taylor would not plead guilty because she did not want to register as a sex offender.
The case is an excellent example of how mandatory minimum sentencing laws can mutate our legal system. Prosecutors can threaten life imprisonment if a person does not enter a plea on a lesser charge. If they refuse, they prosecute in the full knowledge that a conviction would result in a life sentence. Notably, the prosecutor in the video below from the sentencing hearing admits that “the sentence is way out of line.”
The public defender noted that the jury was never told that a conviction would require a sentence of life in prison. She claims that the prosecutor never offered a plea agreement and that the prosecutor refused to bring an alternative charge in full knowledge of the likely outcome. She also argues that the law is cruel and unusual punishment. However, the Supreme Court has effectively gutted the limitation on such sentencings under the Eighth Amendment cruel and unusual punishment clause. In Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63 (2003), the Court ruled that it did not violate the Constitution for a California jury to impose a 50 years to life sentence under its three-strikes law for a man convicted of shoplifting nine videotapes from a KMart. These petty theft charges would normally be treated as misdemeanors with a $150 fine, but the court and prosecutor insisted on treating them as a felony to trigger the three-strikes law.
On the same day, the Court upheld the sentence of Gary Ewing who stole three golf clubs worth $399 each from the pro shop of the El Segundo Golf Course in El Segundo, California. Again, the Court in Ewing v. California, 538 U.S. 11 (2003), upheld the 25-to-life sentence under California’s three strikes law in a decision by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.
The sentencing law allows for probation after ten years.