Monday, March 14, 2005

People v. Panah (Cal. Supreme Court - March 14, 2005)

Here's another decision where the California Supreme Court again unanimously upholds the imposition of the death penalty against the defendant. In a 133 page opinion. It's a whopper.

For what it's worth, I agreed with the result, and didn't find any prejudicial error. There are assuredly parts of the opinion that are fairly weak; for example, I disagreed with some of the discussion of exigent circumstances that begins on page 82, and the claim (on page 96) that the "best evidence" objection was incompletely made is utterly lame. That said, whatever errors were made were harmless, so the result was legally correct.

You again get a sense from the overall opinion that it exemplifies yet another results-oriented approach by the California Supreme Court to these types of cases. Even if the result is correct (as I believe it to be here), it's still depressing.

One other thought. The murder here is senseless and horrible (of a child). But I also leave the opinion with a keen sense of the arbitrary nature of who gets sentenced to death. The defendant here is basically a nut job; he's not legally insane, but he's still utterly irrational. The evidence against him is crystal clear, the jury and community can't help but want him to die, and the prosecution continues to offer him a plea that would avoid the death penalty, but defendant's simply too nutty to accept it. That's his right, of course. But it's frustrating that the dispositive factor controlling who dies and who lives is often -- as here -- how irrational the defendant behaves after committing the offense. It makes me a bit uneasy.