Wednesday, August 03, 2005

People v. Garcia (Cal. Supreme Ct. - July 28, 2005)

Defendants and their counsel have a right to be present when the jury requests and is subsequently allowed to return to the crime scene during deliberations. So sayeth the California Supreme Court.

It's somewhat rare to see a unanimous opinion of our Supreme Court in favor of a criminal defendant. But this seems the clearly right result. And the opinion is well-written and persuasive. There's a right to be there to make sure that the jury doesn't do anything (e.g., conduct experiments, view irrelevant material, etc.) that is improper. It's no different than the right to be there during the initial visit to the scene in the first place.

Of course, where would we be without a little disagreement. So Justices Chin and Werdegar partially dissent, on the grounds that the error here was harmless. But the majority finds otherwise. After all, if the case was so crystal clear, why did the jury bother to ask to go back to the scene of the crime?