Monday, March 20, 2017

People v. Garcia (Cal. Supreme Ct. - March 20, 2017)

It's not as if I don't understand the theory.  Or even, at some level, empathize with it.  It's true that incredibly long footnotes sometimes detract from the flow of an opinion.  I get that.  Trust me.  As a result, I can understand the temptation to adopt an internal "no footnotes" rule.

But today's opinion by Justice Cuellar amply demonstrates the pitfalls of such a principle.

Here are just the first three paragraphs of the opinion:

"According to the Center for Sex Offender Management (CSOM), one in every five girls and one in every seven boys is sexually abused by the time they reach adulthood. Among adults, one in six women and one in 33 men suffer sexual assault. (CSOM, U.S. Dept. of Justice, Fact Sheet: What You Need to Know About Sex Offenders (2008) p. 1  needtoknow_fs.pdf> [as of March 20, 2017].) [as of March 20, 2017].) Yet only about 30 percent of sexual assaults are reported to law enforcement. (Off. of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Registering, and Tracking, U.S. Dept. of Justice, Facts and Statistics,  [as of March 20, 2017].) 

Despite rising incarceration rates, the majority of known sex offenders at any given time are not in prison — and most sex offenders who are imprisoned will eventually be released. (Nat. Governors Assn. Center for Best Practices, Managing Convicted Sex Offenders in the Community (Apr. 2008) pp. 1-2  [as of March 20, 2017].) Like most jurisdictions, California requires convicted sex offenders to register as a means of enabling law enforcement to manage the serious risk to the public of recidivism. (In re Alva (2004) 33 Cal.4th 254, 279.)

During the five-year period from 2006 to 2011, the number of registered sex offenders in the United States increased 23.2 percent. (Nat. Center for Missing & Exploited Children, Number of Registered Sex Offenders in the U.S. Nears Three-quarters of a Million (Jan. 2012) [as of March 20, 2017].) Today, over 850,000 sex offenders are registered throughout the United States. (Nat. Center for Missing & Exploited Children, Map of Registered Sex Offenders in the United States (Dec. 2016) ,> [as of March 20, 2017].) California alone has 75,000 — more than any other state. (Off. of Atty. Gen., Cal. Megan‘s Law Website [as of March 20, 2017]; Cal. Sex Offenders Management Bd., An Assessment of Current Management Practices of Adult Sex Offenders in
California (Jan. 2008) p. 55.) How to manage and supervise these offenders is one of the most difficult challenges facing government policymakers today."


Parsing through all these citations while you're reading is a major hassle.  Particularly, but by no means limited to, the hyperlinks.

Wouldn't it be better just to put the citations in footnotes?  The text would flow a lot better that way, IMHO.

Yes, I know, that'd require the reader to maybe look down occasionally.  But if the reader understands -- either from this opinion or others -- that you're just putting citations there, they can get used to just reading the text and looking down if necessary (read: pretty much never).  And even if they have to plop an eye or two down on occasion, I still think that's better than having to struggle in a paragraph to find when the stinking citation you don't care about finally stops.  At least a footnote is both self-contained and easily ignored.

Lots of legal writing puts too much stuff in footnotes.

But the remedy sometimes goes overboard the other way.