Tuesday, May 12, 2009

People v. Zambia (Cal. Ct. App. - May 12, 2009)

I agree with Justice Kriegler that Jomo Zambia is guilty of pandering. It seems like a pretty broad statute, and the evidence shows that he was indeed trying to become Officer Cruz's pimp.

Let me ask a somewhat related question. Imagine I make the following statement to my readers: "Being a prostitute isn't such a bad thing. The pay and the working conditions are better than a lot of jobs, and it's not qualitatively different than many other business and personal exchanges."

Am I also thereby guilty of pandering, and subject to four-plus years in prison? California's pandering statute punishes anyone who "encourages another person to become a prostitute” by “promises, threats, violence, or by any device or scheme,” so it sems that if one of my goals in making the statement was to encourage people to think about prostitution rather than some other job, I'm guilty, right?

More analogously to the present case, what about if I make the following statement to my friend Laura, who -- against my counsel -- is working as a prostitute on a dangerous street, without any backup or support: "Laura, you're putting your life at risk. Stop being a prostitute. Or, if you remain one, at least get a reliable, safe pimp for support. Not an insane dude like Frank down the street, but rather someone who's gentle and respectful like Dave." Seems like I'm guilty of pandering in that situation as well given Justice Kriegler's holding in this case, which concludes that even trying (as here) to convince an existing prostitute counts as pandering; e.g., as precedent reflects, that a "substantial potential for social harm is revealed even by the act of encouraging an established prostitute to alter her business relations.

This may be another one of those areas where we deliberately pass statutes that are infinitely broad and that cover a plethora of innocent and/or socially beneficial conduct within their scope and rely exclusively upon prosecutorial discretion to separate the "real" bad guys from people like "us". Whether that's a good or bad idea as a policy matter is obviously subject to substantial dispute. But my sense is that that's what's going on here.