Friday, November 30, 2007

People v. Norman (Cal. Ct. App. - Nov. 30, 2007)

I like this case. For so many different reasons. On the merits, even though I initially thought the lack of a jury unanimity instruction was harmless error, Justice Sims convinces me that it wasn't. So it's pretty persuasive. As a matter of appellate direction, since the failure to give a jury unanimity instruction is apparently an error that's pretty pervasive, I appreciate how Justice Sims not only publishes the opinion, but also gives concrete -- and practical -- instruction to trial courts. As in the final sentence of the opinion, which says: "So we have this advice for trial judges: in a criminal case, put CALCRIM No. 3500 on your list of standard instructions to give, then ask yourself: 'Is there some reason not to give this instruction in this case?'" Cool. I like it.

Plus, wholly apart from the merits, I like the cops in this one. They get a report of a bunch of people stealing some mail in an apartment complex, but can't find the guys. But they happen to notice a car that's parked a bit away from the complex that (1) they realize (after running the plates) is stolen, and (2) has car stereos and large quantities of loose mail inside it. So what do the police officers do? They pop the hood, pull the battery cable, and hide in the bushes. Thirty minutes later, the dudes who were stealing the mail hop back in the car, try to start it, and the police bust 'em. Sweet!

Because of the instructional error, the convictions here are reversed. But I'm pretty darn sure they'll be convicted on remand. They seem pretty darn guilty to me. We just gotta make sure. By having a properly instructed jury say so. Which seems like it's definitely going to happen.

Anyway, a cool case. On a rainy day in San Diego.