Tuesday, March 01, 2016

People v. Dobson (Cal. Ct. App. - March 1, 2016)

Hmmm.  I didn't think about this.

Prop. 47 was passed to ameliorate the harsh consequences of the three strikes law for nonviolent offenders.  There's been a ton of litigation about that as Prop. 47 works its way through the courts.  Tons.

That presents problems of its own.  But those problems, while tough, are relatively straightforward.

What I didn't think about was how Prop. 47 might -- or might not -- affect a different class of offenders.

The criminally insane.

Let's say you're a guy who was charged with burglary, and you had a prior strike or two.  If you were convicted, and your sentence was enhanced, you're eligible (in lots of circumstances) under Prop. 47 to relief.  You may well get your sentence reduced.

But let's say that, instead of pleading guilty, or losing at trial straight up, you were found not guilty by reason of insanity.  In that case, you don't go to prison.  But you do to go a mental hospital.  For how long?  Well, the trial court says that the amount of time you spend there (absent other proceedings) is how long your sentence would have been if you weren't insane.  So if, for example, your three strikes sentence would have been 25 years, your maximum amount of time in the hospital is also 25 years.

But then, after Prop. 47 passes, the dude who was actually convicted of the crime get Prop. 47 relief, and gets his sentence reduced.  But you -- someone who "beat the rap" and got an NGI verdict -- are not eligible for relief.  You stay in the hospital for your maximum "three strikes" term.

Petitioner here says that's not cool.  But the Court of Appeal disagrees.

Justice Poochigian's opinion seems right on the merits.  There's a rational basis for this differential treatment.  Which, it bears mention, doesn't necessarily mean that the distinction is rational.  Only that it satisfies the rational basis test.  Someone non-nutty might well have wanted to grant relief only to "ordinary" criminals, not criminals found not guilty by reason of insanity.  So petition dismissed.

We might have wanted to put more thought into this when we passed Prop. 47.  Maybe we'd have done the same thing in any event.

But I readily admit this wasn't something I thought about at the time.  Or since.

Until I read this opinion, anyway.