Saturday, February 26, 2005

People v. Cross (Cal. Ct. App. - February 24, 2005)

Different people will likely have different reactions to this case. The issue is a simple (and fact-intensive) one: whether Earl Cross should be released from a state hospital and given outpatient status.

I was initially quite dubious. Cross killed a man with a knife in 1991, and was found not guilty by reason of insanity in 1995. My presumption -- based on utterly nothing, mind you -- is that you've got to be pretty darn insane to kill another man, and that crazy people that kill once may just be crazy enough to kill again. Plus -- and I know that this technically shouldn't matter -- but Cross was only in the hospital for a dozen or so years. This seems a pretty short "punishment" (and, yes, I know it's not supposed to be), and, on the merits, a dozen or so years of treatment may not always do the trick. Crazy enough to kill may stay crazy.

But I gotta admit that it made a difference to me once I read that Cross is now 82 years old and can only move around in a walker. Not your stereotypical killer, right? It similarly made a difference that every witness at his hearing (on both sides) -- and every psychologist, psychiatrist, social worker, and nurse at the hospital -- unanimously concluded that he was amenable to outpatient treatment. Those are pretty persuasive facts.

I don't think that the case is black-and-white. The trial judge overruled these witnesses and denied outpatient status. Justice Boland (joined by Justice Rubin) reversed. Justice Flier dissented. (The UCLA and USC law graduates outvoted a graduate of the University of San Fernando Valley College of Law.)

This is always a tough call, I think. You've got to figure out how much of a risk you're going to take that an insane person might kill again, since it's always -- always -- a risk. And balance that risk against the certainty that keeping an 82-year old man with a walker in a state hospital is essentially a death sentence. Tough call.