Thursday, June 25, 2015

People v. McDonald (Cal. Ct. App. - June 25, 2015)

There's such a fine line between a tiny little bit in prison and a ton of time in prison:

"On August 19, 2012, Christopher Patterson snatched a gold chain from around the neck of 71-year-old Guadalupe Ramos. In the process, he either knocked or threw her to the pavement of a grocery store parking lot. . . . Guadalupe developed an irregular heartbeat. She was pronounced dead about an hour after the robbery."

If things had gone as planned, and the snatch-and-grab would have worked out as it was intended (e.g., the chain broke easily), Mr. Patterson would have been guilty of a relatively minor offense.  As it actually transpired, however, he's facing first degree murder charges.

So too is the defendant in today's opinion: a guy named Maxamillion McDonald, who sat in a car waiting for Mr. Patterson to return.  He gets convicted on first degree murder as well.  As well as sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.  Plus 12 years.

The Court of Appeal reverses various convictions on instructional (and other) grounds, so Mr. McDonald gets some relief.  At least for now.  We'll see what happens on remand.

But the Court of Appeal doesn't do so due to the totally happenstance nature  of the offense.  We still impart incredible significance in sentencing to chance:  A and B may commit the exact same crime, in exact same settings, but if A's victim falls one way, and B's victim falls another, the punishment we give to identical acts is often radically disparate.

P.S. - As to how Ms. Ramos died:  "Visual examination of the body at autopsy showed abrasions and contusions to the right side of Guadalupe’s body, including her neck. She had a history of hypertension, and the autopsy revealed some kidney disease, fibrosis in the lungs, and a fatty liver. The cause of death was determined to be cardiac dysrhythmia (irregular heartbeat), associated with blunt force trauma on the trunk and extremities. Basically, the marked excitation accompanied by physical exertion and emotional distress surrounding the event accelerated her heart rate and led to internal imbalance. There was a surge of adrenaline, followed by deceleration during the waning effect of the adrenalin, causing the heart to beat irregularly and leading to a heart attack. In essence, Guadalupe literally was scared to death."