Monday, June 22, 2009

People v. Medina (Cal. Supreme Ct. - June 22, 2009)

Sometimes you can get the most accurate sense of a judge -- or anyone, for that matter -- by his or her reaction to close cases. For example, take this case. Someone says "Where you from?" and a fistfight starts between three gang members on one side and a sole gang member on the other. If one of the three, unable to subdue with his fists the (seemingly quite powerful) one, then decides to shoot and kill the person who resists, are all three guilty of murder, or just the one?

The California Supreme Court votes 4-3 that all three are guilty of murder. Justice Moreno, joined by Justices Kennard and Werdegar, dissent.

Lest my (necessarily abbreviated) description suffice, here's the basic point of the dissent: "Stripped to its essence, what the majority holds is that the challenge 'Where are you from?' is so provocative in the context of gang culture that any response up to and including murder is a reasonably foreseeable consequence of that utterance, so as to justify a murder conviction not only of the actual perpetrator but also of any other gang members involved in the target offense, whatever the surrounding circumstances. I cannot subscribe to such an expansive interpretation of the natural and probable consequences doctrine even in the context of gang violence, which no one doubts is a plague upon some of our state's most vulnerable communities."

Neither the majority opinion nor dissent is overly long, and both are worth a read. See who you think has the better of the argument.