Tuesday, May 01, 2007

People v. Prince (Cal. Supreme Ct. - April 30, 2007)

It's a lazy and surprisingly drizzly day here in ordinarily sunny San Diego. And, on the opinion front, all we have thus far is one published opinion from the Ninth Circuit and one from the California Court of Appeal. A good excuse to take off work early on this May Day, if you ask me.

Alternately, if you want to stay at work but merely pretend to be productive, you can read this case. Which tops out at a stunning 159 pages. And which will almost certainly put you in the mood to match the drab and depressing weather here in San Diego today.

It's a death penalty case. About Cleophus Prince, who killed a plethora of young, attractive women down here in San Diego in circumstances that can only be described as both chilling and immensely scary. He's the kind of predator whose mere existence has pervasive consequences for the feeling of safety and security to which every member of society is entitled. So to read what he did, and to recognize that there are surely others out there like him, doesn't exactly make one chipper.

So read the facts of his crimes -- which go on for a couple of dozen pages themselves -- only if you're in the mood to be depressed. Especially if you're a young woman in San Diego. The facts alone definitely have the potential to hit way too close to home.

On the merits, as you might imagine, the California Supreme Court unanimously affirms the convictions and sentence. Notwithstanding the fact (as revealed deep into the opinion, on page 154) that the prosecutor at the sentencing phase in the present case made an argument nearly identical to one that resulted in the reversal of a death sentence by the Illinois Supreme Court in 2001. But the California Supreme Court unanimously says that they agree with the dissent in that case. Which gives you a sense -- if you didn't have it already -- that the California Supreme Court is quite different than other state supreme courts, at least in (and, some might say, especially in) death penalty cases.

One more thing. The murders and other crimes were all back in 1990. It's now 2007 -- 17 years later. And only now are we even (mostly) done with his direct appeal. There's still the petition for certiorari, the state habeas proceedings, and the (potentially multiple) federal habeas rounds. 17 years and the process has, in essence, only just begun. Something with which no one, on either side of the aisle, should be happy.

159 pages. I slog through it so you don't have to. Happy May Day!