Thursday, June 01, 2017

People v. Gonzalez (Cal. Supreme Ct. - June 1, 2017)

Appellate tribunals often resolve complex issues of constitutional and statutory interpretation.

But sometimes, even at the highest levels, the cases are relatively straightforward.

Take, for example, how the California Supreme Court begins the month of June.  The very first paragraph of today's opinion articulates very succinctly the question presented:

"Under Penal Code section 422, it is a crime to threaten infliction of great bodily injury or death on another "with the specific intent that the statement, made verbally, in writing, or by means of an electronic communication device, is to be taken as a threat . . . ." (Pen. Code, § 422, subd. (a).) The question here is whether defendant‘s conduct, which included a hand gesture unaccompanied by words or sound, qualifies as a "statement, made verbally.""

Yep.  That's the issue.  Whatchathink?

If it matters, the relevant "gestures" here were made to an off-duty police officer in Indio, and consisted of a gang member running his finger across his neck, making his fingers look like a "gun" and pointing them in the air, and making a "JT" hand sign (which stands for the Jackson Terrace gang in Indio).

The meaning of those gestures is pretty darn clear.  But the question is whether they constitute "statement, made verbally, in writing, or by means of an electronic communication device."

The California Supreme Court doesn't have a difficult time answering that question.

(1) They're clearly not "verbal" statements, because they weren't made verbally.  Nothing oral at all about them.
(2) They're definitely not statements "in writing" since, obviously, no one wrote anything.  And,
(3) They clearly weren't made "by means of an electronic communication device" since no such device was involved.

End of story.  Even if a better (or more comprehensive) statute might cover gestures, this one doesn't.

Not every opinion involves rocket science.