Friday, April 10, 2020

Sannmann v. DOJ (Cal. Ct. App. - April 9, 2020)

Three (relatively) quick -- okay, in retrospect, maybe not-so-quick -- things about this opinion:

First, it definitely highlights that the Court of Appeal does not believe that "nunc pro tunc" means what trial courts typically think it means (at least down here in San Diego).  Yes, it means that the amended order is deemed to be entered back at the time of the original order.  But the Court of Appeal says that such orders are permissible only for clerical mistakes, not to change the actual content of a considered order.  That may well be the law, but I can promise you that that's not how they're typically used in practice.  Those are the "magic" words trial courts typically utter when they are reconsidering a prior decision.  But, apparently, those magic words ain't so magic.  Which is why (1) the trial court thought it could nunc pro tunc the defendant's guilty plea to a felony to change it to a guilty plea to a misdemeanor, and (2) the Court of Appeal said nope, no way.  The clerk didn't make that mistake; s/he wrote the plea down exactly as it was entered.  So no nunc pro tunc.

Good to know.  Though we'll see if this reminder from the Court of Appeal actually changes the use of these magic words by trial courts.  I suspect not (or at least not so much).

Second, though I take the Court of Appeal's word for what the law is with respect to nunc pro tunc orders and the like, I wonder about the last three pages or so of the opinion, which relates to a very different doctrine, which Justice Haller calls estoppel.  Is it really estoppel?  And is that really the law?  Defendant's argument seems more to me to be one regarding the nonavailability of collateral attacks than it is is about estoppel.  Defendant says (1) I changed my plea back in 2011; (2) the trial court entered an Order in 2011 that changed my plea and vacated the felony guilty conviction; (3) you knew about all this in 2011 -- indeed, the prosecutor supported my change of plea; (4) you did not appeal the thing in 2011, so (5) you can't challenge in 2011 Order in 2018.  To do that, you'd have to file an appeal (in 2011), not a collateral attack in a different case (in 2018) that challenged the validity of the 2011 order.  And good luck with that.

That's not estoppel.  It's finality.  The argument is that even if the 2011 order is (allegedly) void, you can't make that argument in a collateral case.  You've got to do it by attacking the underlying judgment in that case.  Which you can't do on appeal, since the time for appeal has expired.  Maybe you can do it in the state law equivalent of a Rule 60(b)(4) motion (void judgments).  But those have to be filed in the original case, not in a collateral attack, and you didn't do that.

That's the argument I'm seeing, anyway.  Not that the DOJ is "estopped" to deny validity since the prosecutor concurred in the change of plea (though, to be honest, there might be estoppel as well, notwithstanding what the Court of Appeal says here).  But rather that, procedurally, you've got to do this a different way that you didn't do.

Maybe, as a matter of procedure, you can challenge allegedly void judgments collaterally -- though I suspect that even under state law, the ability to do so is sharply constrained.  But I think that's the best argument that's being made here, and I'm not sure I understand the Court of Appeal's response.

Finally, and on a wholly personal level, I wonder about the petitioner here -- Frederic Sannmann.  He got convicted of robbery 23 years ago and now wants to buy a shotgun, but he can't (given that felony conviction).  I'm generally okay with that; I'd prefer that most people who commit robbery not have a shotgun, thank you very much.  But I'm also in favor of possible redemption.  And the fact that the prosecutor here appears to be more than okay with this guy getting a shotgun (as witnessed by the active involvement in the plea withdrawal stuff) matters to me.  Maybe the guy's life now is radically different?  Maybe he's very much changed his ways?  Truthfully, I'm not sure that, even then, you're in desperate need of a shotgun.  But I get that other people may disagree.  What do I feel about the equities here?  Do I have a "Come on, give the guy a shotgun" type of feeling, or do I have a "Well, my friend, you did in fact commit a felony, so sorry, we're just not all that psyched about you having a shotgun" type of feeling?  Not that it matters for the underlying legal issue.  But still.

So I looked up Mr. Sannmann, trying to find out what type of person he was etc.  After all, he has an unusual name, so shouldn't be too hard to figure out at least some basics about him.

Turns out:  He lives four blocks away from me.

Well, now.  That certainly brings the issue home, as it were.

I'm still largely ambivalent about whether the guy gets a shotgun.  Though, to be honest, I'd just as soon not have a ton of people having shotguns on the streets on which my children bike, and the fact that the guy's at least a former robber definitely isn't a point in his favor.  Still.  As my (older) kids would say:  "Whatever."  It almost certainly doesn't matter.  Not like he's likely going to be toting the thing down the mean streets of Ocean Beach firing at random anytime soon.  Decide the case on the merits, which in this case really just involve hypertechnical procedural issues that we can decide one way or the other.

Though still somewhat surprising that the guy lives four blocks down.  I didn't previously think there was a lot of pent-up former-robber shotgun demand therein.