Friday, June 25, 2010

People v. Low & Gastello (Cal. Supreme Ct. - June 24, 2010)

Two opinions from the California Supreme Court (here and here) with the same fact pattern and to the same effect. Defendant gets arrested and brought to a jail. The police ask him: "Do you have any drugs on you? It's a felony to enter a jail with drugs."

The defendants don't want to incriminate themselves, so say either "No" or nothing. Then they're taken into the jail and searched, at which point officers find drugs. So now defendants are charged with the additional (high-penalty) offense of bringing drugs into a jail.

Defendants assert a Fifth Amendment defense and also say it's not like they wanted to go to jail -- they didn't have a choice -- so shouldn't be convicted. But the California Supreme Court unanimously rejects their contentions. "You voluntarily had drugs. Your bad if that means you have to incriminate yourself due to the statute."

I can understand that. Makes sense at some level.

But what's good for X is presumably good for Y. So tell me how this case comes out:

Legislature passes a statute that says "It's hereby a crime to bring blood or hair that's not your own into a jail." Risk of infection or lice; something like that. Police tell defendant accused of assault "Do you have any hair or blood spatters on your clothes from the victim? You gotta tell us before we put you in jail otherwise it's a crime." Presumably the same result, right? Unless the guy incriminates himself, he can be charged.

So why not get at it directly? What about this statute: "The Legislature finds that people who have assaulted someone recently are at a higher danger of assaulting others in jail and need to be segregated. It is hereby illegal to enter a jail if you have recently assaulted someone without disclosing this fact." Defendant's suspected of assault and booked into jail, with the officer saying "Did you commit an assault recently? You have to tell me or it's a crime to go into general population." Ditto for identical statutes that change "assault" to "murder" or "rape" or "theft".

Same as the other statutes, right? Personal status is no different than possessory status, after all. Don't forget that defendants in each scenario "voluntarily" put themselves into the position they're in. So they can't be heard to complain.

Convictions upheld 7-0 in the California Supreme Court, right?