CSU East Bay Professor Pedophile Gets Conviction, Plea Vacated
The acts committed by former Cal State University East Bay Criminal Justice Professor Kenneth Kyle, and his accomplice Tessa Vanvlerah, are too disturbing to recount in detail. The pair sexually assaulted Vanvlerah's 3-month-old infant daughter, leading to two consecutive life sentences for the mother, and a 37.5 year sentence, pursuant to a plea, for Kyle.The pair met online, and were caught after the FBI noticed him sharing footage of the crimes on a file-sharing network under the screen name "cruelsob."
Kyle's a free man, at least for now, as his reprehensible conduct led the trial judge to stray too far into the plea bargaining process. After the judge rejected a thirty year sentence, and expressed her thoughts that anything less than life would be inappropriate, the parties agreed to the longer sentence, plus restitution and supervised release.
The case will now be remanded and reassigned to a different judge, though due to the large amount of evidence, a similar outcome should be expected.
Plea Deals After Davila
In this year's Davila decision, the Supreme Court held that a judge's violation of Rule 11(c)(1), which states that the court "must not participate in [plea] discussions," does not automatically warrant a reversal. Instead, the proper inquiry is whether the defendant would have taken the plea notwithstanding the judge's comments. The prior Ninth Circuit rule was automatic reversal.
In this case, while the judge tried to mind the line of Rule 11, her extended colloquy with counsel repeatedly stated that she was inclined to only accept a sentence of life. At the time he pled guilty, Kyle was 47-years-old. His attorney was attempting to submit actuary evidence to show that the thirty years was effectively a life sentence, but it was to no avail.
Of course, thirty years in federal prison for a 47-year-old pedophile probably would've meant life (or a fellow inmate-executed death sentence), but the court wanted more.
Her repeated suggestions of life, and her statement that she was prepared to hand down a life sentence if the case went to trial, makes it "reasonably probable" that Kyle negotiated and accepted a more severe sentence than he would've otherwise accepted, the standard set by Davila. Similar statements by trial judges have led the Fifth Circuit and the Seventh Circuit to find violations of Rule 11.
Rule 11's Fine Line
What's the final line for Rule 11? "We join other circuits in holding that '[w]hen a court goes beyond providing reasons for rejecting the agreement presented and comments on the hypothetical agreements it would or would not accept, it crosses over the line established by Rule 11 and becomes involved in the negotiations.'"
- United States v. Kyle (Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals)
- Judge's Role in Plea Talks Results in Reversal of Sex Conviction (Metropolitan News-Enterprise)
- Fruit of the Poison Tree: Two Confessions Don't Make it Right (FindLaw's Ninth Circuit Blog)
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