Friday, October 28, 2016

People v. Learnard (Cal. Ct. App. - Oct. 28, 2016)

Defendant allegedly hits someone with his skateboard.  After he's arrested by police, once he's in his cell, he's very upset about his situation.  "He alternated between extreme anger and agitation to becoming emotional and slumping against the wall crying. He paced the cell, frequently punching his hand with his fist and slapping his hands against the walls and the glass door of the cell. He removed his shirt and threw it on the floor. After filling out some paperwork, he threw the pen against the wall so forcefully that the pen broke."

There's a videotape of his conduct in his cell.  The prosecution plays it at his trial.  Defendant strongly objects, saying that the prejudice resulting therefrom clearly outweighs its probative value.

I was initially inclined to agree.  But Justice Lui's opinion persuades me otherwise.  Yes, the video does tend to prejudice the defendant.  And it's technically not part of the crime at all, which was done and over by the time the police found him.

But Justice Lui persuasively argues -- to me, anyway -- that the video is relevant to refute defendant's story at trial that he attacked the victim because the victim was a drug-dealing child molester.  Whereas the prosecution's story -- and a pretty persuasive one at that -- was that the victim was a total stranger, and that defendant just went off on the guy for totally no reason.

The fact that the defendant was in a seriously agitated state seems relevant, since it provides a fair piece of support to the prosecution's position that the defendant had a "problem" at the time and in that state decided to go off on a total stranger.  Sounds to me like that was, in fact, what went down.

Plus I agree that, even if it was error, it was harmless.  Because, yes, the defendant was pretty clearly guilty of assault.

On another front, I'm happy that the Court of Appeal reversed the guy's 35-year-to-life sentence for the attack.  Which clearly deserves punishment, but not 35-to-life.  Even though the guy's clearly got problems, and needs help (as well as to be off the street, at least for a while), 35-to-life seems a fair piece too much for a skateboard attack where the victim refuses medical treatment and doesn't have any serious injuries.

So, in the end, it seems to me that this opinion strikes the right balance.

Which is a nice way to go into the weekend.