Monday, July 23, 2018

People v. Bear (Cal. Ct. App. - July 23, 2018)

There are so many things wrong about this opinion.  Yet one thing right.

Here are the facts:

"In 1978, defendant approached a high schooler on a transit bus and told him to take off his Ted Nugent concert T-shirt because defendant didn’t like it. When the boy did not comply, defendant kicked him in the face and took out a knife. The boy took off the shirt and handed it to defendant who threw it out the bus window. In connection with the incident, defendant pleaded guilty to grand theft person (§§ 484-487), a felony, on January 7, 1980."

Okay, first off, it's 1978.  Why is someone offended at a Ted Nugent t-shirt?!  Ted Nugent wasn't especially politically active -- at least as far as I can recall -- at that point in his career.  And, yeah, maybe you're of the mind that his music ain't all that awesome, but let a dude wear his t-shirt anyway, okay?!  Chillax, as the kids say (or at least once said).

But okay, there you have it.  A felony.  An incredibly stupid felony that I totally can't understand, but a felony regardless.

Then Proposition 47 gets passed, so the petitioner asks the felony to please be kicked down to a misdemeanor.  And files a petition.  Which in turn requires that Mr. Bear demonstrate that the value of the property taken (since the plea was for grand theft) to be less than $950.

But the petition doesn't do so.  It doesn't say the property was less than $950.  It doesn't mention the value of the property at all.  And it doesn't even mention that the property was a t-shirt.

Seriously?  Who's writing this thing?!  That's some pretty basic stuff.  PUT IT IN THERE.

So the trial judge then gets the petition and says screw you.  I'm denying it because you didn't meet your burden of proof.  Except the trial judge KNOWS it's a t-shirt -- and clearly one not worth over $950 -- because the judge apparently has the preliminary hearing transcript.  Now, is a trial judge compelled to pore through a record to find some basic facts?  No.  But if the thing is seriously right there, and it's easy to tell that we're talking about a t-shirt, maybe you just want to go ahead and do that anyway.  Even though it takes a couple of minutes and the law doesn't require it.  Lest someone be deprived of their liberty for, say, years because of a stupid mistake.

So then the defendant files a second petition.  And the District Attorney -- to the DA's credit -- says, yeah, it's only a t-shirt, we're cool with everything, the guy's entitled under Prop. 47 to reduce the conviction to a misdemeanor, so go ahead and do that, we stipulate.  At which point the trial court says, nope, still not gonna do it.  I don't care about the merits.  You only get one shot, and since you screwed it up the first time, and since I didn't say I was denying your petition "without prejudice," I'm rejecting the stipulation and keeping the felony.

Seriously?!  Are we really THAT hard core about procedure in a case like this?  Especially since the statute does not, in fact, say that you only get one shot at a petition?

The Court of Appeal ultimately reverses and remands.  Holding that, yes, the trial judge did indeed have discretion to hear the second petition.  So since the judge didn't think that she had any such discretion, we're going to go ahead and remand so she can give it another shot.

Though I gotta say, I'm not sure that this particular judge seems like she's very sympathetic to the defendant's plight.  So we'll see what happens on remand.

In the end, the Court of Appeal gets it right.  But everything else about the underlying events seems so wrong to me.  From the inexplicable crime right on down to the desperate attempt to do everything possible to make sure this defendant doesn't get the Prop. 47 relief applicable to the relevant crime.