Monday, April 26, 2010

People v. Navarrete (Cal. Ct. App. - Feb. 1, 2010)

I like this. Basically, all of it. The opinion, written by Justice Rubin. What the trial court, Judge Patrick Meyers (in LA), did. What the trial D.A., Robert Britton, did. Essentially what everyone did. With the exception of Detective Andrew Serrata. Who seems to me to be everything we do not want our police officers to be.

I won't get that much into the case, in large part because the entire opinion's worth reading, and is also sufficiently short that one can do so fairly easily. I will say that my sense is that while I agree with Justice Rubin that Navarrete isn't totally obviously guilty, I do think he's in deep trouble, and may well have committed the offenses for which he was charged. For which I might also have given him even more than six years.

But I also agree that his conviction should be reversed. First, I'm quite confident -- especially given what subsequently transpired -- that the trial court properly found the police officers not credible when they said they gave the suspect his Miranda rights. Usually trial courts are very hesitant to call "testilying" by police even when they see it, but here, the trial court did so, and I was happy to see that. Though even here, notice (in footnote 2 of the opinion) how wary the trial court was to even do that.

At which point the officer blatantly violates the motion to suppress, and does so wilfully. The facts of this one are pretty striking; I'd say it was a made-for-television movie, except the way these things happen (and the details discovered) are more plausible. Anyway, I like how the trial court addressed the problem, and liked what the Court of Appeal did as well. Am I totally persuaded that the error wasn't harmless? No, not totally. But it might have had an effect on the trial. And the misconduct by the officer was so deliberate and wilful that even if I had any lingering doubts, they'd go against the conviction -- indeed, what transpired here might even amount to outrageous governmental conduct, albeit by only a single state actor.

In the end, though, the system got this one right. And I hope both that Detective Serrata does not hear the end of this one, as well as that the other people involved in this controversy know they did the right thing and would do it again.