Tuesday, July 03, 2007

United States v. Gonzalez (9th Cir. - July 3, 2007)

I like the opening paragraph of this opinion by Judge McKeown, which begins:

"Southwest Airlines Flight 2466, bound for Ontario, California, from Las Vegas, Nevada, had an uneventful takeoff. Before long, the cabin was in total chaos. Passenger Salvador Gonzalez became hysterical, demanded that the plane land, made statements about a bomb and, according to a flight attendant, said, 'I’m blowing the plane up.' The crew and passengers tried to subdue him. He eventually was handcuffed and the plane was diverted back to Las Vegas."

Doesn't sound like a typical flight from Vegas, huh? Or a flight I'd especially like to be on. I much prefer the ones where the passengers silently rue their gambling losses. Or ponder what they'll significant other about why they weren't in a position to answer all those calls to their hotel room in the middle of the night. "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas" doesn't really suffice as an explanation to one's spouse or girl/boyfriend, I imagine.

What's also nice about the way that Judge McKeown begins the opinion is that it encourages the reader to come out the same way she does -- which is to affirm a two-plus year prison sentence for Mr. Gonzalez for interference with a flight crew member, and, in particular, the essential doubling of his sentence under the guidelines because his conduct allegedly "recklessly endangered the safety of the aircraft." Judge Tashima dissents, so it helps to have Judge McKeown essentially paint Mr. Gonzalez as a quasi-terrorist in an attempt to get the reader on her side. It have been a much different beginning, for example, had Judge McKeown began the opinion as follows:

"Shortly after take off from Las Vegas, passenger Salvador Gonzalez began to have severe medical problems consistent with a massive heart attack. He asked the flight attendant for oxygen and, in light of his apparent heart attack, began saying 'We have to get on the ground. We have to land.' When there was no sign that the plane was in fact returning to Las Vegas to land, Mr. Gonzalez, convinced that he would die in the air, became increasingly distraught. Precisely what Mr. Gonzelez said is undisputed; it is clear that he said 'Do I have to say I have a bomb to get this plane on the ground?' But some witnesses said they heard only the words 'I have a bomb' from Mr. Gonzalez. Regardless of what was actually said, various passengers began punching Mr. Gonzalez, and they wrestled him to the ground, after they heard whatever words were spoken. The sentence of Mr. Gonzalez -- who had no bomb or other device -- was essentially doubled because his conduct allegedly ''recklessly endangered the safety of the aircraft,' and he appeals."

That'd give a different flavor to the opinion, right?