Thursday, January 13, 2011

People v. Avila (Cal. Ct. App. - Jan. 6, 2011)

I always like it when the Court of Appeal gives good advice.  Particularly when it does so in the first paragraph of the opinion.  Always good for any readers who might be in a rush.

So, for example, Justice Yegan begins this opinion with the following introduction:  "A criminal defendant has a hard enough time defending the underlyign charge.  He should not 'pick a new fight' with the prosecutor and yet another fight with this court appointed counsel [by] threatening to kill them[,] thereby creating two new cases to defend."

Really?!  You don't say.  Hmmm.  Always thought that was a good strategy.  Thanks for the head's up.

Seriously, though, I really did like that introduction.  It brought a smile to my face.  Particularly since that's exactly what the defendant did here, and it was indeed a very poor strategic decision.

It didn't especially surprise me, by the way, when I learned later in the opinion that the defendant was found mentally incompetent to stand trial.  You have to be a little, well, "different" when you threaten to kill people in an open and obvious way.  Particularly when you do so in a call from a jail cell that you know is being recorded.  Even more so when -- because you're a nut job, quite frankly -- your second threat comes from a letter you sent from your jail cell (which you give to the jailer) in which you quite clearly print, on the outside of the envelope:  "Death Threat, Via U.S. Mail, Title 18 U.S.C. Crime."  Well, now.  That's making it pretty easy for the authorities, isn't it?  Even more so when you also write (again on the outside of the envelope) that if your letter isn't given to a particular judge, "When I get out, I will find you and murder you with a shotgun at point-blank."  Adding, lest there be any doubt, that you had the "specific intent" that your letter be taken as a death threat and that "This time I am not joking, I'm serious!!"

Getting a conviction on that one's gonna really be tough, huh?  That's for shortening the process, dude.

In the end, though, I find a glimmer of hope.  Because guess what?  This is not just some crazy guy.  This was a guy who ran for a seat on the Thousand Oaks City Council.  And who was initially charged with a crime when, during his 2004 campaign, he generated harassing text messages that were made to look as if they'd been sent by an opposing candidate.

Democracy, however, worked.  The voters elected the other guy.  So maybe we've got the right system after all.  The electorate can see whack jobs even before the criminal justice system can.

A great, and happy lesson.  Diminished only slightly by the realization that in the relevant election, out of seven candidates (the top two of whom won seats), this particular whack job came in fifth.

So imagine just how crazy the other two candidates must have been.