A San Luis Obispo man who pleaded guilty to stalking his ex-wife on social media was sentenced to 20 years in state prison on Thursday — but he could have faced a lot more time behind bars.
Michael Sydney Smith, 50, who admitted having two prior convictions for making criminal threats, faced the possibility of 25 years to life in state prison under Under California’s Three Strikes law, had he taken the case to trial.
Instead, he accepted a plea deal in San Luis Obispo Superior Court.
“We are hopeful that the significant prison sentence imposed in this case will provide the survivor time and space to heal,” Deputy District Attorney Danielle Wheeler, who prosecuted the case, wrote in a prepared statement.
With Thursday’s plea agreement, Smith will be eligible to have a parole review in roughly five years under California’s Proposition 57, passed by voters in 2016, Assistant District Attorney Eric Dobroth said.
According to the District Attorney’s Office, Smith engaged in a series of acts constituting stalking against his ex-wife during the spring and summer of 2016, including following the victim in violation of a criminal protective order and using social media to threaten her life.
At the time, Smith was on parole from state prison for a previous domestic violence conviction also involving his ex-wife, Dobroth said.
He added that Smith’s case is notable because many people do not realize that posting threatening language directed at an individual on social media can constitute a crime.
Paul Phillips, Smith’s attorney, said Thursday that his client and the victim in the case have had a long, “tumultuous” relationship, and that the two had attempted to reconcile for a time before the recent felony case was filed.
Phillips said the Three Strikes law favors the victim in the case, and that his client made the decision to enter into a determinant sentence agreement to serve no more than 20 years.
“What they try to do is make the punishment fit the crime, but I think (20) years is excessive in this case,” Phillips said. “But (Smith) made the decision he felt was in his best interest.”
Smith remains in San Luis Obispo County Jail custody pending transfer to California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation officials for prison placement.
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