Tuesday, January 25, 2011

People v. Morrison (Cal. Ct. App. - Jan 25, 2011)

I'm liking the trial court -- Judge Jed Beebe, up in Santa Barbara -- in this one.

William Morrison is on probation and gets caught by his probation officer for putting fake pee in a cup.  Section 135 of the Penal Code makes it a misdemeanor to wilfully destroy evidence.  So you'd think that manufacturing "evidence" that's never going to be used at trial (this is a pure probation issue) would simply be a probation violation, or at most a misdemeanor.  But Morrison gets charged with a felony under Section 134, which applies to anyone who prepares false evidence for any "trial, proceeding, or inquiry whatever, authorized by law."

Judge Beebe says:  "I'm not happy about it.  It seems to me it ought to be a wobbler."  But he concludes:  "I've been struggling for some intellectually honest way to read that language and say it doesn't apply, and I can't find it."  So applies Section 134 to Morrison.  After which the Court of Appeal affirms.

I like someone who both struggles to do the right thing and yet remains intellectually honest, even when it compels a result contrary to his internal preferences.  I think that's a great way to be.  So kudos to Judge Beebe.  Who gets this one exactly right, in my view.

Sometimes, the plain language of a statute is indeed the starting and ending point for the relevant inquiry.