One-year jail term in South Nevada County sex-with-minor case

Plea also leads to three years probation but no sex-offender registration
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Walter Nunnink has been jailed for a one-year term in connection with a sex-with-minor case. 


NEVADA CITY CA - A Nevada County man was sentenced Friday to a year in jail after making a plea-bargain agreement on a charge of having sex with a 12-year-old girl.

Walter Ryan Nunnink, 25, was also given a three-year probationary term by Nevada County Superior Court Judge Thomas Anderson in a case he described as one that showed the strength of the victim’s family to speak up.

Nunnink was charged after an investigation into a complaint that he had engaged in sexual intercourse with the girl, who was then 12. The incident was alleged to have taken place sometime between March 1 and March 15, 2011.

The girl lives in Sparks, Nev. and was staying at the Next Star Farm on Streeter Road, in the Lake of the Pines area, at the time of the complaint. Nunnink’s mother owns the eight-acre facility and trains horses there.

Family members said after sentencing that the girl was training at the facility in hopes of one day going to the Olympics.

Nunnink was also staying at the farm at the time, court was told.

Nunnink’s plea agreement on the felony charge comes with a probation condition that he not be in contact with minors unless another responsible adult is present. He is not required to register as a sex offender.

Before sentencing on the 12-month term, Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Ow told the hearing in Nevada City that the case will have an impact on the girl and her family “likely for the rest of their lives.”

“The defendant was more than 10 years older and the victim was very young at the time,” Ow said.

Ow’s request that Nunnink be remanded into custody immediately after sentencing to help provide closure for the family was granted by Anderson. Nunnink was led away under arrest and had been booked into the Nevada County Jail by early afternoon Friday to start serving his sentence.

Attorney Michael Phillips, representing Nunnink, described the plea agreement as neither a “no contest plea” or a guilty plea while Ow described it as a guilty plea. Instead, Phillips said that under a rarely used area of state case law, Nunnink made a West plea. Under a West plea, he made no express admission of guilt but agreed to be sentenced as if a guilty plea had been lodged, he said.

Phillips said his client contested the allegations of the girl and stated they had not been proven. Ow declined to comment on the specifics of the case outside the courtroom.

Before sentencing, Phillips told the judge that the 12-month term was a “lid” and could be reduced to a lower term. He said Nunnink was part of a prominent family in the community, that he had no criminal history, had 13 letters of support submitted to the court and was gainfully employed.

“Everyone’s surprised – the allegations just don’t ring true,” Phillips said. “And no one saw any inappropriate behavior.”

Phillips was unsuccessful in convincing the judge to allow some of the year-long term to be served as alternative sentencing, which he said would have allowed Nunnink to go back to work.

Anderson said his sentencing decisions took into consideration Nunnink’s history and the nature of the case.

Nunnink agreed to a plea bargain under a section of the state Penal Code for adults over the age of 21 who engage in an act of “unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor under 16 years of age.” The possible sentence could have ranged as high as three years in state prison without the West plea.

Neither Nunnink or the girl made statements during Friday’s hearing. 


What is a West Plea?

(People v. West (1970) 3 Cal.3d 595.) West is the seminal case discussing the legality of plea bargaining in California, and is cited for many, many legal propositions. However, a “West plea” is most likely to stand for a plea which “does not constitute an express admission of guilt but only a consent to be punished as if guilty.” (People v. Bradford (1997) 15 Cal.4th 1229, 1374.) Typically, the defendant stipulates to a factual basis for the plea. (See, e.g., People v. Westbrook (1996) 43 Cal.App.4th 220, 223 [factual basis from grand jury transcripts].)

Source: Appellate Defenders Inc. Website.