Tuesday, August 25, 2009

People v. Dungo (Cal. Ct. App. - Aug. 24, 2009)

From the outset of the opinion, it's not looking good for the defendant. Justice Blease begins with:

"Defendant Reynaldo Santos Dungo admitted choking his girlfriend Lucinda Correia Pina to death, but claimed he did so only after he was provoked to the point of losing control, and thus, was guilty of at most voluntary manslaughter. The jury disagreed and found defendant guilty of second degree murder . . . ."

That's not exactly how you want to see an opinion commence if you're on the defense side.

But how quickly things can change. Check out the subsequent two paragraphs:

"At issue is the defendant's Sixth Amendment right to cross-examine the pathologist (Dr. George Bolduc) who prepared the report on the cause of the victim's death. A critical fact in the trial was the duration of the choking, which bore on the defendant's culpability, whether he was guilty of murder or voluntary manslaughter. Dr. Lawrence was not present at the autopsy on the victim's body and was permitted to testify, over defendant's Sixth Amendment objection, as to the cause of death, including the amount of time the victim was choked before she died. In doing so, he relied on the facts adduced in an autopsy report prepared by Dr. Bolduc, Dr. Lawrence's employee.

The autopsy report itself was not admitted into evidence, though Dr. Lawrence disclosed portions of the report to the jury, and defendant was not able to cross-examine Dr. Bolduc either on the facts contained in the report or his competence to conduct an autopsy. Dr. Lawrence testified at a preliminary hearing that he was aware that Dr. Bolduc had been fired from Kern County and had been allowed to resign "under a cloud" from Orange County and that both Stanislaus and San Joaquin Counties refused to use him to testify in homicide cases. He explained that if Dr. Bolduc testifies "it becomes too awkward (for the district attorney) to make them easily try their cases. And for that reason, they want to use me instead of him.""

Say no more. I'm pretty confident where this one has to go at this point. Conviction reversed.

Thta's how quickly the worm turns sometimes.