[News] 26 to life for taking an exam

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Wed Dec 31 09:07:03 EST 2003


26 to life for taking an exam
Man took cousin's drive test -- strike 3
<mailto:begelko at sfchronicle.com>Bob Egelko, Chronicle Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 30, 2003
©2003 San Francisco Chronicle | Feedback | FAQ

URL: sfgate.com/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2003/12/30/BAG3H40CA31.DTL

A federal appeals court upheld a prison sentence of 26 years to life Monday 
for a Southern California man whose third strike consisted of trying to 
take the written portion of a driver's license test for his illiterate cousin.

Santos Reyes was convicted of perjury for filling out an application, under 
penalty of perjury, in his cousin's name. Reyes was caught using a crib 
sheet on the test in September 1997 at a Department of Motor Vehicles 
office in San Bernardino, was stopped by an officer as he left the building 
and admitted the deception, saying his cousin had previously failed the 
written exam, prosecutors said. Reyes testified later that he wanted the 
cousin to have a license so they could both work as roofers.

Because of a juvenile burglary conviction in 1981 and an adult robbery 
conviction in 1987, Reyes faced a mandatory sentence of up to life in 
prison under California's three-strikes law.

Reyes, a married man whose children were 1 and 3 years old at the time of 
his sentencing in 1998, challenged his sentence in federal court, 
contending it violated the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

The local prosecutor, Reyes said, had offered him a four-year sentence if 
he pleaded guilty. He rejected the deal and went to trial, believing he 
would be acquitted because he had not understood what perjury meant when he 
tried to take the exam.

In a 2-1 ruling, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco 
said Reyes' claim of cruel and unusual punishment had been foreclosed by 
the U. S. Supreme Court in March. The high court in March, in another San 
Bernardino County case, upheld a sentence of 50 years to life for a man 
with two third- strike convictions for shoplifting videotapes.

Judge Harry Pregerson dissented from the appeals court ruling, saying Reyes 
had been punished unconstitutionally for going to trial rather than 
accepting the four-year plea agreement. "I believe that punishing a person 
for exercising his or her constitutional rights clearly violates due 
process," Pregerson said.

E-mail the writer at <mailto:begelko at sfchronicle.com>begelko at sfchronicle.com.



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