Monday, March 03, 2014

People v. Jackson (Cal. Supreme Ct. - March 3, 2014)

One of the downsides to selling drugs to gang members in the area is that they occasionally shoot both you and your wife in the face while robbing your home.  That you survive is little solace given that your wife does not.  Equally of little solace is that your assailant is sentenced to death in a decision affirmed by the California Supreme Court.

Normally I'd add to that last part the word "unanimous".  But this one isn't.  Justice Liu instead dissents.  In an opinion that's worth a read notwithstanding its length (49 pages).  He critiques not only the result in this case, but also the application of harmless error by the California Supreme Court in a wide variety of cases.  As well as the attitude of the Court towards these cases.

Many justices on the California Supreme Court have "learned a lesson" from the Rose Bird recall and have adopted a correlative attitude when dealing with death penalty cases.  We're starting to see that Justice Liu may not be one of them.

In my opinion, that's a good thing.  And this was a pretty decent case in which to articulate this vision, one in which the defendant was forced to wear a 50,000 volt stun belt during trial for little to no reason.  (The most powerful part of Justice Liu's dissent is when he quotes from the manufacturer's brochure:  “One of the great advantages, the company says, is its capacity to humiliate the wearer. ‘After all, if you were wearing a contraption around your waist that by the mere push of a button in someone else’s hand could make you defecate or urinate yourself,’ the brochure asks, ‘what would that do to you from the psychological standpoint?’ And if the shock ever has to be administered? ‘One word —,’ brags the brochure, ‘DEVASTATION!'")

It may well be that we don't have that many more years in which the California Supreme Court has to automatically review every death penalty case.  In the meantime, time will tell whether we get more dissents like these.  I'm hoping that the answer is "yes".

If only to keep these things lively.