Wednesday, November 16, 2005

People v. Sanborn (Cal. Ct. App. - Nov. 9, 2005)

There are two interesting things about this opinion. First, it's yet another in an infinitely long line of cases in which the defendant gets sentenced to (in essence) death in prison for molesting children. Infinitely. Long. Line. Sanborn is 34, and is sentenced to a determinate term of 24 years plus two consecutive terms of 12 years. So enjoy dying behind bars. Oh, by the way. They love child molesters in there. It'll be a great series of decades. If you somehow manage to survive them. Opinions will vary on whether that's the appropriate punishment. But it's definitely common.

Second, there's actually a double jeopardy claim here of a type I've never seen before. The jury begins to deliberate, and these deliberations last a long time. The jury eventually reaches a verdict on some (but not all) of the counts, but then there's a death in the family of one of the jurors, and she's excused. At which point the judge instructs the jury to rip up the verdict forms they've already completed and start anew. Which they do, and then convict the defendant on a ton of counts. In response to which the defendant argues that this procedure (in which he acquiesced) violates double jeopardy, since once the jury reached a verdict on the counts on which they agreed, jeopardy attached. So the post-ripping-up verdicts were impermissible.

Justice Hollenhorst rejects this claim, which seems right, though I might have articulated different reasons than his. Which actually puts it favorably, since I think that he doesn't really have any actual reasons, but instead merely discusses and distinguishes precedent, rather than expressing any actual policy or doctrinal arguments. My sense is that the verdicts are final only once they're accepted by the judge, or at least read in court, and hence the ripped-up verdict sheets don't count. Still, it's an interesting double jeopardy argument. And if the jury had indeed found the defendant not guilty in these initial verdict sheets, I'd have a tough time arguing that double jeopardy didn't attach, even though that still seems the right result. This case, however, doesn't present such a pristine and difficult case. Still, it's an interesting -- and novel -- issue. One I hadn't even thought about before, much less confronted in the real world.

One other thing. Does anyone really believe -- honestly -- that juries even pretend to follow instructions to begin deliberations anew once an alternate is seated? Come on. You know that it's pretty much a total fiction that they start deliberations all over. And if you didn't know it before this case, definitely go ahead and check out what happens here. The jury deliberates for eight full days without reaching a verdict, asking for some testimonial readbacks and the like. Then the alternate comes in and the jury instructed to deliberate anew. At which point the jury takes all of three and a half hours to reach a verdict on ten-plus counts. Oh yeah. I'm really sure they totally started over. Definitely. But Justice Hollenhorst doesn't care. It's a black box. Which means we just pretend that they follow our instructions. Even when we know that's a total lie.

Anyway. Enjoy prison, Mr. Sanborn. Good luck on your eventual habeas petition. Assuming, of course, you can find someone to do it for you. Without screwing it up. And without getting iced in prison first.