Monday, May 02, 2005

People v. Roldan (Cal. Supreme Ct. - April 25, 2005)

I wouldn't advise reading the entire 119-page opinion in this case, in which the California Supreme Court -- as I know this will come as a huge surprise -- unanimously affirms the imposition of the death penalty. But anyone reading the case has got to feel for the defendant's counsel, who was compelled to represent him even though he had made (quite credible) death threats against him (and a lot of other people as well). The Supreme Court holds, correctly, that the resulting conflict was generated by the defendant in order to secure a continuance, so wasn't a basis for excusing the attorney. Still, it's got to be hard to defend someone who's threatening to kill you (and, parenthetically, also refuses to talk to you and instructs you not to talk to witnesses or any of his family in connection with the penalty phase).

My sympathy is only heightened when the opinion repeatedly describes how counsel, notwithstanding the death threats, consistently performed an "outstanding" job at the trial. Though, I gotta say -- because the Supreme Court doesn't -- he's not too outstanding, since once one reaches page 115, you realize that he failed to object to the prosecutor's blatantly impermissible references to the Bible in support of the death penalty. Obviously, no one's perfect, but you'd think that virtually anyone -- especially an experienced capital defense counsel -- would notice and object to such impropriety. (And, parenthetically, that no experienced capital prosecutor would be so sleazy and/or uninformed to employ such an obviously improper tactic.)