Friday, March 31, 2017

People v. Lena (Cal. Ct. App. - Feb. 22, 2017)

There are so many things about the facts of this opinion that are surprising.  It starts with:

"Lena attempted to escape, but cornered himself on a dead-end street, where he jumped out of his car and pointed a gun at the pursuing officers. One of the officers drew his own gun in defense, which surprised Lena, and he fled the scene on foot down a bike path."

Wait.  Lena is fleeing police officers, pulls out a gun and points it at police officers, and then Lena is "suprised" when the police draw their own guns in self defense?!  Um, I think that's fairly standard, to be honest.  Maybe you can legitimately be surprised they didn't shoot you, but as for pulling their guns, yeah, they tend to do that when a fleeing felon points a gun at them.

But let's not judge Mr. Lena harshly.  He does apparently have some talents.  Not only did he steal a ton of stuff from various households, but he not only got away from the police (and lived!), but he even almost made it out of the country.  And, no, not to Mexico:

"After his escape from the officers, Lena fled north by truck, avoiding capture, and made it all the way to the Canadian border."

Sadly, for him, that's where his luck runs out:

"But as he attempted to cross the border control point, he behaved suspiciously, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police tried to apprehend him. The result was a high-speed chase into Canada that ended abruptly with a roadblock and a shootout with the pursuing Canadian officers. Lena was wounded, taken into custody, and after a brief stint in the hospital, convicted and imprisoned in Canada for discharging a firearm at a person and attempted murder. After serving his sentence, Lena was brought back to California to be tried for the offenses that led to his flight into Canada."

Back in the States, Mr. Lena makes another series of unfortunate decisions.  Starting with the decision to represent himself at trial.  With predictable consequences.

I'll give him this, though.  He certainly made the trial, eh, "interesting".

"At trial, Lena chose to represent himself. He based his case primarily on his own testimony, the sum and substance of which was significantly different from what had been reported by California and Canadian police. Lena claimed he was delivering medicine to a friend in Corte Madera when he was pulled over by police officers for no apparent reason. He denied burglarizing any homes, claiming the stolen passports and firearms found in his car had been planted there by both California and Canadian officers sometime during the years he spent in Canadian prison.

Lena claimed he never pointed a gun at pursuing officers in California, and that he fled because he feared the officers were actually federal agents who had been following him for a few years. The only reason he sought refuge in Canada, Lena explained, was because, upon escaping the officers in Marin County, he saw his face plastered across the news as a burglary suspect, and he felt it was in his best interest to flee the country even though he was innocent.

Lena also claimed he passed though the Canadian border without incident, but the Canadian police put up a barricade further down the road in order to stop him. According to Lena, after he crashed into a ditch, Canadian officers snuck up and shot him twice from behind, causing severe wounds which put him in the hospital. He never fired back, he claimed, because he had no gun; he said the firearms the Canadian officers found in his truck, like the guns found in his car in the U.S., were plants used to frame him."

Yeah.  Good luck with that story.

One more decision, though.  After testifying at trial, Mr. Lena makes another tactical decision:

After giving his testimony, Lena told the court and the jury he would not answer any of the People’s questions during cross-examination. The court cautioned him against that course, explaining that if he refused to answer appropriate questions during cross-examination, his entire testimony would be stricken from the record. That did not deter Lena, and he replied it would not matter if his testimony was stricken because the jurors wouldn’t be able to “delete [his testimony] from their memory.”

During cross-examination, Lena held true to his threat and refused to answer any questions. He told the jury he was doing so because he believed the People had “stonewall[ed]” him, and he thought it only fitting to do the same thing to them. Again the court tried to warn Lena it would strike his testimony from the record if he continued acting belligerently, but he was undeterred. In light of his refusal, the court struck his entire testimony."

You can probably figure out for yourself how all this stuff eventually worked out for Mr. Lena.  Hint:  He's not currently residing in your neighborhood.  (Unless you happen to live near the Tehachapi prison.)

This is nonetheless one of those (many) cases that makes you wonder about whether it really makes sense to let people represent themselves.  No biggie in this particular case, maybe, since it's fairly clear that Mr. Lena is in fact guilty.  But what if he were (potentially) innocent?  His decisions at trial certainly would almost assure his conviction regardless of the merits.