Monday, August 09, 2010

People v. Brady (Cal. Supreme Ct. - Aug. 9, 2010)

There's good forensics evidence that suggests that you're the murderer. The person you killed was a Manhattan Beach police officer. Who you killed in the line of duty during a traffic stop. In cold blood. With three separate shots. As his 12-year old nephew watched.

That you previously committed another murder is only icing on the cake. You're going to be sentenced to death. And the California Supreme Court will unanimously affirm.

The only thing surprising about this one -- though, perhaps, we should not be surprised, since I see this time and time again -- is the docket sheet. The death sentence was finalized in March 1999, and the certified copy was filed the next month. It then took nearly three full years to appoint counsel for the defendant, with nothing at all on the docket sheet during this period. Why so long?

Then we have the usual requests for an extension to file the brief. We initially give counsel nine months. Then she wants more time. So we say "Sure, but we're only giving at most four more extensions, for a total of 220 days, so seriously, get the brief done. No later than June 2004 for sure."

So counsel keeps asking for extensions, and the California Supreme Court each time says: "Okay, but remember, we're only doing this until June 2004, and only because each time you're saying you can indeed get it done by June 2004."

Then June 2004 rolls around. At which point counsel says: "Oh, I need some more time." And the Court says: "Okay. But no later than July 2004. No further extensions."

Then July comes. No brief. The Court says: "Okay, September 2004 then."

September 2004. No brief. The Court says: "Okay, November 2004. But after that date, no further extensions will be granted."

But why believe 'em? No brief in November 2004. So another extension to January 2005.

Needless to say, no brief then either. Extension to March 2005. Then May 2005. Then June 2005. Again, "after that date, no further extensions will be granted." But yet again, no brief, so another extension to August 2005, October 2005, November 2005, January 2006, and then February 2006 (twice).

Finally, in March 2006, a brief gets filed. Seven years after the death sentence is final.

"But death penalty briefs are complicated. It takes that long to examine the record and file things," you say? Even if true, that still wouldn't justify the Court entering briefing orders that it has no intention of enforcing, and that everyone knows are meaningless.

It takes the A.G.'s office a little over a year to file its opposition, which also seems a bit long. It then takes defendant's counsel another year to file the "optional" reply brief. No way a reply brief should take that long. Or require six extensions, and -- yet again -- orders that after a certain date "no further extensions will be granted," followed up by entry of yet additional extensions. Why do that? You can just preclude a reply.

Of course, even after all that, it takes another two full years to set the case for oral argument.

So now you'll know the answer the next time someone asks why it takes 10 years to resolve a single death penalty appeal in the California Supreme Court. Even in a fairly straightforward case in which the answer is virtually preordained.

There's plenty of blame to go around.