Wednesday, June 17, 2015

People v. Miranda (Cal. Ct. App. - May 13, 2015)

It's interesting how all the various rights line up here.  In a case ironically involving a guy named Miranda.

David Miranda wants a speedy trial.  He's got a right to one in the Sixth Amendment.  He's also got an appointed attorney.  That's in the Sixth Amendment too.  But the appointed attorney isn't ready to go to trial so quickly.

So Miranda decides to represent himself since that's the only way to get to trial quickly.  He's got a right to do that under -- you guessed it -- the Sixth Amendment.  (Parenthetically, it may make sense for Miranda to want to exercise his speedy trial rights, since he's sitting in jail while he awaits trial since he can't make bail.  Notwithstanding his right to bail under the Eighth Amendment.)

So the trial court grants Miranda the right to represent himself, and the case goes to trial.  Evidence at trial, however, reflects that Miranda may have some serious mental problems.  Which is total news to the trial judge.  As well as a problem, since Miranda has right to adequate counsel under the (again) Sixth Amendment.  Which he won't have if he's being represented by someone incompetent/loony.

That puts the trial judge in a bind.  Does he declare a mistrial?  Make standby counsel take over?  Let the trial go forward?  All of these options potentially imperil various rights, as well as the efficiency of the process.  Tough call.

Ultimately the trial judge lets the thing go forward.  Miranda's convicted.  At sentencing, the trial judge again expresses his dismay.  He sentences Miranda to probation, saying:  "[Had] the defendant not represented himself at this trial and pretrial, there’s no question in my mind that had the defendant retained or had appointed competent counsel a disposition like the one that I intend to go forward could have been negotiated for this defendant. He was his own worst enemy by attempting to represent himself specifically with his mental health history of [sic] and the court has been totally unaware throughout the entire pretrial and trial."

Which I understand.  That should indeed have been the sentence.  And the plea.  And likely would have been if everyone was on the stick.

But in my mind, it wasn't really Mr. Miranda's fault.  He just wanted out of jail.  What he wanted to do was understandable, if misguided.  By contrast, the prosecutor and the defense attorney were fully able to have done what the trial court wanted -- a just and reasonable plea deal -- quickly.  At least in theory.  But the prosecutor didn't care about speed, since s/he's overworked, and he defendant's in jail in the meantime anyway.  And the defense counsel's overworked as well, and has to ability to coerce a deal from the prosecutor if the latter's not (currently) interested.

Which leaves Miranda in precisely the bind he's in.  As well as (subsequently) the trial court.

There's a serious tension between our interest in having the just resolution of criminal cases -- which generally requires competent counsel -- and our interest in allowing defendants the autonomy to make the incredibly stupid decision to represent themselves.  There's another serious tension between our desire to expend as few resources as necessary on the criminal justice system and our hope that the results of this system comport with morality.

In Miranda's case, these tensions are amply demonstrated.

With serious consequences to Mr. Miranda.  Who's forced, among other things, to languish in jail even though everyone agrees that the "right" result here would have been a quick probation deal.

The Court of Appeal ultimately affirms.  Nothing's "legally" wrong with what transpired.

But I think the process is far from optimal.  To say the least.