For those of you who are fond of the inflexibility of the three strikes law, I hope you will consider the plight of one Gregory Taylor.† Mr. Taylor has been sentenced to twenty-five years to life in prison for attempting to open a door to the kitchen at St. Josephís Catholic Church in Los Angeles.† Mr. Taylor was not an unfamiliar face at the church, as Franciscan priests fed him from time to time.
This incident occurred at 4:00 a.m., and as the police investigated, Mr. Taylor told the officers he was hoping to find something to eat and that he knew a priest at the church.† At his trial, a priest from the church testified that they often do furnish food to the hungry, and that Mr. Taylor may well have believed his behavior was reasonable.† The jury convicted, and because Mr. Taylor had two prior strikes under the statute, the judge had no discretion, and therefore sentenced Mr. Taylor to twenty-five years to life in prison.† This sentence was affirmed by the Court of Appeals.
The next stop for this case is the California State Supreme Court.† The dissenting Justice in the Appellate Court, Justice Earl Johnson, likened Mr. Taylorís situation to that of Jean Valjean from Victor Hugoís classic Les Miserables.††† The Justice indicated that in the epic novel, a cleric tells a lie in order to free the hero.† In this case, a priest tells the truth, indicating that the church would have given Mr. Taylor its food freely and happily, yet he is convicted.†
Assuming that the State Supreme Court takes this case, it will be this caseís second visit to the High Court.† In January of this year, the Supreme court ordered the Court of Appeals to take another look at their decision to affirm this burglary conviction in light of a recently decided case that held that if one has a good faith claim to ownership of property, that can be a defense to† a felonious taking which is necessary to establish theft, an element of the burglary conviction in this matter.† This applies to Mr. Taylorís case in that his Judge refused to give the jury an instruction indicating that a defendant would not be guilty of theft ďif he has a good faith belief he has permission to take property, even if the belief is unreasonable.Ē† Well, that sounds exactly like that which Mr. Taylor is putting forth.† It therefore would seem logical that at a retrial, the trial court judge should give this instruction to the jury, and an instruction this significant may well lead to a different verdict.† Not so, says the Court of Appeals.† They view Mr. Taylorís claim that the priests would have given him the food as speculative and tenuous, and as not enough to support the requested jury instruction.†
Please remember that the State Supreme Court sent this case back to the Court of Appeals for a reason.† The standard indicated by the State Supreme Court is if one has a good faith belief he has permission to take property, EVEN IF THE BELIEF IS UNREASONABLE, he is entitled to a verdict of not guilty.† Reasonableness is not the issue here, and good faith belief is.† The fact that Mr. Taylor was attempting to enter the church at four in the morning to get some food from the kitchen may not seem reasonable to you or me however; the question is whether or not he had a good faith belief that what he was doing was proper, or at least not inappropriate.†
As this case heads back to the State Supreme Court, hopefully the Justices will send this back to the trial court, ordering the court to give Mr. Taylor a new trial.† At that trial, this very appropriate jury instruction may well serve to free Mr. Taylor.