Thursday, April 09, 2009

People v. Earle (Cal. Ct. App. - March 19, 2009)

It's the rare case in which the Court of Appeal will find that the consolidation of two criminal charges against a defendant results in reversible error. This is such a case.

Or at least that's the opinion of Justice Rushing, who writes a very powerful -- and lengthy (46-page) -- opinion. By contrast, Justice Mihara dissents, and writes a 27-page dissent of his own. If you've got the time, they're great reading. See which one you agree with. They definitely adopt different perspectives on the exact same case, which is always interesting. Plus, it's not surprising that a judge with a civil background prior to joining the bench might have a different perspective than a former district attorney on this issue.

I will say that the one frustrating thing about the Court of Appeal is that far too many opinion/dissent combinations, including this one, look exactly like what they are -- which is to say, competing draft opinions written in advance of the oral argument by two different chambers. As a result, in both opinions, you have the same basic statement of facts, review of procedure, etc. Which is annoying, because, of course, having read the majority opinion, we already know that stuff, so there's no need to repeat it twice. But having written the opinion that way in advance of oral argument -- as we all know transpires in state court (as opposed to federal court) -- we're reluctant to delete our excellent work. Hence the duplicative stuff.

Federal court has that sometimes to a tiny degree, in the case of competing bench memoranda, but it's not nearly either as bad or as pervasive. This is one area in which state procedure (and the requirement that the opinions be issued speedily after oral argument) really makes -- or, more accurately, helps to make -- for the issuance of opinions that are harder to read (and hence worse). Sadly.