Monday, October 01, 2007

People v. Ross (Cal. Ct. App. - Sept. 28, 2007)

Shades of President Clinton in this one. Who's famous for wrangling about what "is" means.

But, in this case, the linguistic dispute is far more meaningful. As well as significant, since it decides whether or not the defendant spends the next 36 years to life in prison.

The query: What does "mutual" mean? Especially in the context of "mutual" combat?

Justice Rushing provides an outstanding answer. In an opinion that is cogent, well-written, and persuasive. It deserves a full read. It's that good.

I'll nonetheless shorthand it for you as well. When a woman -- insulted at being called a "whore" -- slaps a man, and the man beats the crap out of her in response, that's not "mutual combat". At least as we use that term in the context of self-defense. Sure, the combat is "mutual" in that both parties engaged in it. But that's not what we mean. Boxing is a type of "mutual combat". So's fencing. But your routine slap-and-punch isn't. For the latter, the usual rules of self-defense apply. It's not "mutual combat" in which the rules are different. And hence, in this case, the defendant's conviction gets reversed. And, on remand, the trial court shouldn't even give the "mutual combat" instructions. Which seems entirely right.

Mind you, the mere fact that slap-and-punch isn't mutual combat does not, in my view, justify someone going ballistic on the face of a woman who's simply slapped you. At all. But that's for a jury to decide, not me, and they should indisputably do so on the basis of proper and relevant instructions.

So I think Justice Rushing gets this one exactly right. In an opinion that's definitely worth a read.