Wednesday, February 03, 2016

People v. Valenzuela (Cal. Ct. App. - Feb. 3, 2016)

Defendant carjacks someone, pushing the victim down while her six-year old child stood by crying.  Defendant then speeds off in the vehicle, almost running over a bystander in the process.

When the police start a chase, defendant then tries them by crossing into oncoming traffic to pass cars, skidding into a field, driving back onto a residential streets at up to 65 miles per hour, and running through several stop signs and through an intersection with crossing guards as children walking to school scrambled to get out of her way.  Defendant's ultimately caught when the car crashes head on into a telephone pole and defendant is tackled by police.

Oh, yeah.  Defendant has prior convictions for car theft, receiving stolen property, and -- yes -- reckless evasion.

She also has methamphetamine in her pocket when she's arrested.

Defendant receives a total sentence of less than seven years in prison.

I'd have given her a fair piece more.

I've never been a fan of the sharp distinction between attempt versus completed crimes, or crimes that involve reckless disregard and those in which it just-so-happens that there's injury.  Ms. Valenzuela here evaded police, drove 65 miles per hour on residential streets running through stop signs, and had kids and crossing guards scrambling out of her way to avoid being hit.  Had she hit one of 'em, she'd be looking at something like 25 to life.  As opposed to less than seven.

All based on the fortuity on whether or not a particular child happened to move six inches left or right at the time.

It seems to me that we should care a lot about deterrence.  Especially in these types of cases, in which the defendant is making a decision about whether the benefits of trying to evade the police (escape) are worth the downsides of doing so (enhanced penalties).  To deter, it shouldn't matter much whether a person (or other vehicle) happens to get hit.  Every single time, you create the risk.  So the penalty -- the thing you have to consider when you're deciding whether to flee -- should be sufficiently large to deter the creation of that risk.  Regardless of whether, in retrospect, someone actually ended up getting hit.

Ditto for culpability.  You're equally culpable for evading police regardless of whether the kid that you (almost) run over happens to see you sufficiently early and is fast enough to get out of the way.

The only thing that might justify the sharp distinction between punishment for those who create a risk and those whose risk happens to end up in injury is retribution.  And that's a pretty weak basis, in my view, upon which to foist criminal liability.  Especially given the far more compelling competing interest in deterrence.

So Ms. Valenzuela gets off easy, in my view.  Way easy.