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Name: People v. Smith
Case #: S108291
Court: CA Supreme Court
District CalSup
Opinion Date: 03/29/2004

Appellant was charged with failing to register as a sex offender in violation of Penal Code section 290, subdivision (g), because he failed to inform the police of a change of address within five days as required by subdivision (f)(1). Appellant contended that he had mailed the requisite notice, but the police didn’t receive it. The trial court instructed the jury that a registered sex offender must ensure that his written notification concerning a change of address is actually received by the police. Appellant was found guilty and sentenced to five years in state prison. The Supreme Court here reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeal affirming the conviction. Under section 290, subdivision (f)(1), a registered sex offender who mails a change of address notice to police within five days has fulfilled his statutory obligation. The statute does not give clear notice that the registrant has a duty to see that the notification is actually received by the police, and therefore cannot be construed to impose that obligation. Therefore, the trial court erred in instructing the jury that appellant had that responsibility. The trial court’s error was prejudicial. Appellant’s only defense was that he had mailed the notice. The jury deadlocked, and was instructed that timely mailing was not a defense to the charge. The jury convicted appellant 20 minutes later. Obviously the erroneous instruction was the key to resolving the jury’s impasse, and was therefore prejudicial. Further, California did not lack jurisdiction to retry appellant for the violation because appellant’s move was to Colorado. Persons who incur a legal obligation in California cannot escape prosecution by moving to another jurisdiction.