Monday, January 06, 2014

People v. Wahidi (Cal. Ct. App. - Dec. 30, 2013)

Imagine that you accidentally rear end someone's vehicle with your car.  Their bumper is dented.  You know the accident is your fault.  Not surprisingly, they want you to pay for the thing.  Which you're willing to do.

The process can go one of two ways.  The "formal" way involves the victim calling the police, having the officer write a report and (almost certainly) give you a ticket, and then having the victim make a claim on your insurance policy.  The "informal" way involves you giving the victim the cost of the dented bumper.  To make it simple, let's call it $600.

Your insurance deductible is $500.  The ticket will be another $300.  Your insurance rates will go up.  You know all this in advance.  So let's say you ask the victim if he'll just let you pay the $600 and call it even.  No "extra" money.  Just settling the thing civilly.

Any problem with that?

I'd think not.  Happens all the time.  It's not "bribery" to pay the guy off.  At least as long as you're not paying him extra.  It's not "dissuading a witness" from calling the police.  It's a simple, straightforward transaction I'm confident happens every single day in every single city in the United States.

Now let's change the hypothetical a tiny little bit.  You break a guy's car window with a baseball bat during a fight.  You feel bad about it.  So you approach the victim at a mosque.  You've seen him several other times at different mosques.  But you're going to this one to try to set things right.  You apologize to the victim for what you did.  And tell the guy:  "We’re both Muslims. That if we could just settle this outside the court in a more Muslim manner family to family, have our families meet and settle this out of court and not take this to court."  'Cause that's in fact the Muslim way.

Let's stipulate that your sole intent in having this conversation was in fact to try to persuade the guy to resolve the dispute civilly.  Or religiously.  In other words, to not further involve the police.


The Court of Appeal says "Yes".

Remember that the next time you try to "resolve" things informally.

What's most fascinating to me about the opinion is not just that people do these things every day.  But that lawyers do these things every day.  Abdulla Wahidi gets convicted of a felony for approaching the victim as he did.  But if he were smarter (or richer), he would have hired an attorney.  Who'd have gone to the victim (or the victim's lawyer) and who'd have said the exact same thing.  No way in the universe the lawyer would have been found guilty of a crime.  Or even disciplined.  That'd just be "resolving the dispute".

Might there be an "implicit" quid pro quo; i.e., I pay you off, criminal charges/tickets go away?  Sure.  That happens all the time.  You think there's absolutely no link between Michael Jackson paying $23 million and the alleged molestation victim deciding not to testify at the guy's criminal trial?  Could be.  Or not.  I'm sure there's no express linkage.  Especially since none would be enforceable anyway.  But the parties -- including but not limited to the lawyers -- nonetheless know full well what's going on.

Perfectly fine.  No charges.  Except when -- as here -- the parties are unsophisticated enough not to bring in lawyers.

Then you get a felony.