Friday, February 17, 2012

People v. Leavel (Cal. Ct. App. - Feb. 17, 2012)

What's up with a public defender who forgets that his client has pled not guilty by reason of insanity?

I understand that it took forever for this case to get to trial.  They catch the defendant in mid-2005 and in August 2005 he pleads not guilty.  The circumstances of his crime are more than a little bit nutty, so the case lingers, with numerous inquiries into the defendant's competence to stand trial, and in April 2007, appointed counsel for the defendant -- William Figueroa -- amends the plea to not guilty by reason of insanity.  The court appoints an expert to conduct an examination, and a couple months later, the expert writes a report that concludes that the defendant is sane.

Two and a half years later -- after the trial is continued "ad nauseum" -- the defendant finally goes to trial.  At which point the defendant's lawyer reenters a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity and asks the court to appoint an expert to evaluate the defendant's sanity.  But the next day, the court checks its records, and tells the defendant (and his counsel) that they already entered an insanity plea and got an expert report three years earlier.  At which point "Attorney Figueroa responded, 'Wow,' presumably having forgotten the matter," and withdraws the request for an expert.


This isn't an especially serious offense (in the scheme of things), but it is a felony.  So you might think that the public defender was simply overworked and lost this one in the shuffle.  But it's a three strikes case.  One in which the defendant was sentenced to 102 years to life once the jury found him guilty and rejected his insanity plea.  So it's kinda a big deal to the defendant, who presumably wasn't happy once he realized that his attorney didn't even know what plea had been entered.

Which assumes that the defendant's keenly aware of what's actually going on.  Which isn't necessarily the case.

Regardless:  It's still not the San Bernardino County Public Defender's best day.