Lifetime Registration Requirement of Sex Offenders in California
Penal Code Section 290 imposes a lifetime registration requirement on those convicted of certain sex offenses. Subdivision (g) of that section prohibits a "willful" violation of this registration requirement.
In order to convict a defendant of having willfully violated section 290, it must be proven that he or she had actual knowledge of the duties imposed by that section.
In People v. Garcia (2001) 25 Cal.4th 744, the jury was instructed that conviction for failure to register requires proof the defendant suffered a qualifying conviction, resided in the state, willfully failed to register, and was informed upon his release from prison of his duty to register. (Garcia, supra, 25 Cal.4th at pp. 750-751.) The jury was also read CALJIC No. 1.20 on the meaning of willfulness and CALJIC No. 4.36 that ignorance of the law is no excuse. (Id. at p. 751.)
The state high court concluded these instructions did not adequately convey the knowledge requirement of a failure to register. The court explained it is not enough that the defendant was informed of his duty to register. The defendant must actually know of his duty to act. (Garcia, supra, 25 Cal.4th at p. 754.) "A jury may infer knowledge from notice, but notice alone does not necessarily satisfy the willfulness requirement." (Id. at p. 752.) The court further concluded it was error to instruct the jury that mistake of law is no excuse, "which on its face would allow the jury to convict defendant of failing to register even if he were unaware of his obligation to do so." (Id. at p. 754.)
In People v. Edgar (2002) 104 Cal.App.4th 210, the jury was instructed that the People must prove the defendant willfully failed to inform law enforcement of any new or additional address. The jury was also instructed on the meaning of willful pursuant to CALJIC No. 1.20. Finally, the jury was instructed pursuant to CALJIC No. 3.30 that a violation of section 290 is a general intent crime and that "'general intent does not require an intent to violate the law. When a person intentionally does that which the law declares to be a crime, he is acting with general criminal intent, even though he may not know that his act or conduct is unlawful.'" (Id. at p. 218.)
The Court of Appeal concluded these instructions did not adequately inform the jury of the knowledge requirement for a violation of section 290. According to the court: "Like the 'ignorance of the law is no excuse' instruction (CALJIC No. 4.36) given in Garcia, the general intent instruction given here (CALJIC No. 3.30) 'on its face would allow the jury to convict appellant of failing to register even if he were unaware of his obligation to do so.'" (Edgar, supra, 104 Cal.App.4th at p. 219.)
In People v. LeCorno (2003) 109 Cal.App.4th 1058, the Court of Appeal found instructional error where the trial court expressly informed the jury the defendant need not know he established a second residence in order to be required to register that second residence. During deliberations, the jury asked the court: "'If the defendant was fully aware of his obligation to register as a sex offender but believed that the San Mateo address was not a residence for him, did he have actual knowledge of his duty to register as a sex offender in San Mateo?'" (Id. at pp. 1064-1065.)
The court provided the following supplemental instruction: "'It is not necessary that the prosecution prove that the defendant believed he had established a legal residence in order to prove that the defendant had actual knowledge of his duty to register as a sex offender. It is not necessary that the prosecution prove that the defendant had actual knowledge of the legal definition of residence in order to prove that the defendant had actual knowledge of his duty to register as a sex offender.'" (Id. at p. 1065.)
The Court of Appeal rejected the People's argument that the defendant need only know of a general duty to register a second residence, explaining: "The supplemental instructions in response to the jury's questions told the jury explicitly, and incorrectly, that it was not necessary for defendant to have believed that he had established a legal residence in San Mateo and was required to register there. It is nonsensical to say that in order to purposefully fail to register, defendant must have knowledge only of an abstract duty to register, but that he need not know what that means or how it applies to his circumstances. If defendant did not know that he had become a resident of San Mateo and therefore was required to register there, it hardly matters that he was aware that there was a duty to register under other circumstances. (LeCorno, supra, 109 Cal.App.4th at p. 1065.)