Penal Code Section 290 California

In People v. Garcia (2001) 25 Cal.4th 744, our Supreme Court ruled that actual knowledge of the duty to register is an element of a Penal Code Section 290 offense. As the court explained, "section 290 requires the defendant to actually know of the duty to act. Both today and under the version applicable to defendant, a sex offender is guilty of a felony only if he 'willfully violates' the registration or notification provisions of section 290. The word 'willfully' implies a 'purpose or willingness' to make the omission. Logically one cannot purposefully fail to perform an act without knowing what act is required to be performed." ( Id. at p. 752.) In Garcia, the prosecutor objected when the defense attorney attempted to argue that the defendant was not aware of the registration requirement. The trial court essentially sustained the objection. The prosecutor argued in closing that lack of knowledge was not a valid defense. Nonetheless, the Supreme Court found the error harmless because the jury was instructed that the elements of the crime included that the "defendant 'was informed of his duty to register under Penal Code Section 290 by an official in charge of the place of confinement,' and that he 'read and signed the form required by the Department of Justice stating that the duty of the person to register under Penal Code section 290 will be explained to him.'..." ( People v. Garcia, supra, 25 Cal.4th at p. 755.) The Supreme Court concluded that the verdict of guilt required the jury to find that the defendant actually read the form that explained his registration obligation under section 290 to him. (Ibid.) The verdict thus established that the jury rejected defendant's testimony that he did not know about his duty to register. Accordingly, the error in instructions was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. (Ibid.)