Wednesday, August 29, 2012

People v. Ortiz (Cal. Ct. App. - Aug. 29, 2012)

I had chills down my spine when I read this opinion.  I'm sure they had something to do with the fact that the crimes transpired less than a couple of miles from where I'm currently sitting, and in places I've been hundreds of times (i.e., we're talking about a "nice" part of San Diego).  But even viewed completely objectively, the thought that this could totally happen to you/me would still make the case really scary.  Here's what went down:

"At about 10:30 a.m. or 10:45 a.m. on February 2, 2009, Joshua Castrillon and his girlfriend, Silvia Arellano, left their Chula Vista home and drove her 2007 dark gray 530i BMW to Pacific Beach to have breakfast at Rocky's restaurant.  Castrillon drove the BMW while Arellano sat in the front passenger's seat.  As soon as they parked on Ingraham Street in front of the restaurant, a Lincoln Navigator pulled up in front of them and three men (Ortiz, Martinez, and Quezada) got out and approached the BMW.  The men were wearing dark clothes, gloves, and sweatshirts with hoods pulled over their heads.  Martinez, holding a gun, pushed Castrillon, who had just opened the driver's door to get out, back into the car and over the center console into the back seat.  Castrillon sat directly behind the driver's seat.  Martinez then sat in the driver's seat.  At the same time, Ortiz stopped Arellano from opening the front passenger's door further, ordered her to get back in, and shut her door.  Quezada entered the car from the right rear passenger's door and sat in the middle back seat.  Ortiz then got in the back seat and sat to the right of Quezada, directly behind Arellano.  Martinez drove the BMW south on Ingraham Street.  He told Arellano to do whatever he said and everything would be fine.  When Ortiz asked Arellano for her cell phone, she accidentally handed him her iPod and then saw it fly out the window.  When she reached back into her purse to find her cell phone, Ortiz placed a taser to her back and said, 'Make sure she's not dialing.'  She handed Ortiz her purse and then felt a taser sting her back.

Paul Fatta, an owner of the Big Kahuna restaurant adjacent to Rocky's, witnessed the incident and called 911.  He described the three men as Hispanic and wearing loosefitting jeans and hooded sweatshirts.  San Diego Police Officer Howard Spetter responded to the dispatch regarding a carjacking of the BMW and soon located and began following it.  The BMW turned onto the eastbound I-8 freeway.  Martinez saw the police car following him and told Arellano to 'be cool' and 'not . . . do anything stupid' if he got pulled over.  Quezada spoke to someone on his cell phone and then he or Ortiz told Martinez to '[j]ust try not to get stopped by the police.'

Meanwhile, San Diego Police Officer Elias Rodriguez, a tactical flight officer, was flying in the airborne law enforcement (ABLE) helicopter and responded to the dispatch regarding the carjacked BMW.  He saw a vehicle matching the BMW's description on the I-8 freeway at its interchange with the I-5 freeway; Spetter's patrol car was following it.  Martinez began changing lanes and driving slower than the speed limit.  He then made an abrupt lane change, cutting across two lanes, and drove onto Hotel Circle.  Spetter then turned on his lights and siren and pursued the BMW.  Martinez went through a stop sign, and accelerated to 90 miles per hour in a 35-mile-per-hour zone.  He weaved in and out of traffic, crossed into the oncoming lane of traffic, and nearly collided with other vehicles.  Martinez yelled, 'Get ready.'  He threw his gun out the front passenger window.  He went through another stop sign and then entered back onto eastbound I-8.  San Diego Police Officer Lisa Hartman joined Spetter in his pursuit of the BMW.

Martinez cut across all the traffic lanes, pulled over, and stopped on the left shoulder of the freeway's center divide.  Martinez, Ortiz, and Quezada jumped out of the car and began running.  They jumped over the center divider wall and ran across the westbound lanes of freeway traffic.  They then climbed over a fence and ran toward the adjacent Motel 6.  As they ran through its parking lot, they removed articles of clothing.  They ran through the Motel 6 and out its back door near the San Diego River.  San Diego Police Sergeant Charles Lara drove into the Motel 6's parking lot and saw people pointing north.  He got out of his car with his pistol drawn, heard rustling noises in the bushes, and saw three men walking north in the waist-deep water of the San Diego River.  He yelled, 'Show me your hands [or] I will shoot you.'  They complied with his order that they return to the riverbank.  Martinez was wearing a black shirt, Ortiz a white shirt, and Quezada a black-hooded sweatshirt.  Officers found baseball caps, a jacket, and five gloves that Defendants had discarded on or near the Motel 6 property.  A $100 bill was found in the jacket's pocket.  In the Hotel Circle area along the pursuit route, police found a loaded 9-millimeter Glock pistol, an unloaded Beretta pistol, a magazine, and bullets.

Meanwhile, Spetter and Hartman found Castrillon and Arellano in the BMW and ordered Castrillon to get out.  Castrillon appeared terrified and Arellano was shaking, crying, and curled up in the fetal position."

Freaky.  I'd be terrified as well.  Maybe even curled up in the fetal position.  Wow.

One portion of the opinion nonetheless made me question myself.

As I forthrightly said, one reason I thought the case affected me as deeply as it did was because it was both close in proximity and involved circumstances in which I could easily place myself.  There but for the grace of God, etc.

But then, after reading all the facts and forming a strong emotional reaction, I get to this paragraph:

"On February 5, 2009, Castrillon told investigators he believed the kidnapping was the result of his not paying for a large amount of marijuana coming from Tijuana.  In 2008, Castrillon became acquainted with Arturo Galarza, who introduced him to Daniel Jasso, an affiliate of Teodoro Garcia Simental, a former lieutenant of a Mexican drug cartel.  Castrillon agreed to organize the smuggling of 100 kilos of marijuana, worth $70,000 to $100,000, from Tijuana to the United States.  However, when the marijuana never arrived, Castrillon was responsible for its $70,000 to $100,000 value."

Dude!  Here I was thinking it could totally be me, and that they were just after your nice ride, and only later do I find out that they jacked you because you stiffed a Mexican drug cartel!  What did you think was going to happen?!  "Oh, don't worry about the hundred grand.  We're cool."  No.  No chance.

But here's the thing:  Learning that this "couldn't" happen to me -- because I rarely make six-figure deals with Mexican drug cartels -- diminished my emotional desire to see the defendants here rot in prison for the rest of their life.  But that's clearly wrong, right?  They still did the exact same crime I read about.  That it "couldn't happen to me" doesn't at all change their just desserts.  Isn't it wrong for me to change my opinion simply because one of the victims stiffed a drug lord?  He's still not "asking" for it.  Much less is his girlfriend.

Yet, emotionally, it definitely mattered.

Which leads to the question:  Which is wrong?  My initial reaction that they should be sentenced to life?  Was that an irrational, overly emotional response?  Or is what was wrong my later reaction that maybe a sentence of something less than life would be tolerable?  Is that just because I insufficiently feel the pain of victims who are "others"?

I don't know.  Truly.  But it does seem that one of these two reactions -- if not both -- are misguided.  If only because they're inconsistent.  And yes, I know, emotions inevitably matter, and we all feel a special bond to people (including victims) who are "like" us, and things like that may routinely color our analysis.  But that doesn't make it right.  And when we catch ourselves doing it, it calls for some self-examination.

There's an old saying that a conservative is a liberal who's been mugged.  In my case, that's not true:  I've undergone the latter (at gunpoint, no less), and it didn't change my attitude about crime.  But in this case, I have a strong sense that my emotions clearly colored my analysis.  In a way I didn't like.  Or at least couldn't rationalize as intellectually permissible.

Some reflections on crime for a Tuesday.