Thursday, September 12, 2019

People v. Thomas (Cal. Ct. App. - Sept. 12, 2019)

I suspect that Justice Lui is entirely correct in this one.  There's enough evidence of an intent to cause great bodily injury, so the trial court didn't err in denying the defendant's petition (pursuant to the new initiative) to get out of his three strikes sentence.

Yet I gotta say that -- apart from the merits -- I'm uncomfortable with sentencing the guy to 25 to life for this offense.

What'd he do?  He basically sucker punched a friend of his and broke his jaw.  For no good reason other than they were arguing.  That's (of course) not okay.  As the victim quite artfully said in a letter he wrote to the defendant right before his trial:  "But Ray, you can’t be sucker punching people because things aren’t going your way."  True that.

But it was profoundly meaningful to me that the victim didn't want the guy going away to prison for the punch.  Even though he was the victim and lost 20 pounds when he jaw was broken.  I was struck by this paragraph of the opinion:

"After Chillious [the victim] was released from the hospital, appellant went to Chillious’s apartment and apologized. Chillious was reluctant to testify in the case because he felt sympathy for appellant and his daughter. Before trial, Chillious wrote appellant a letter in which he said, ‘I don’t want you to be sent away. But Ray, you can’t be sucker punching people because things aren’t going your way.’ He also told appellant he planned to lie at the next court hearing by testifying that appellant punched him in self-defense after Chillious pushed appellant. Chillious wrote that he knew appellant did not mean to break his jaw, and he did not ‘want to see [appellant] in the system for something [he] didn’t mean to do.’ Finally, Chillious said that he considered appellant to be a friend, and he hoped appellant would be out of custody within a couple of months."

Now, look, just because the victim sincerely doesn't want the guy prosecuted doesn't mean that we don't prosecute the guy.  There's no veto there.

But, nonetheless, it matters.  Particularly when the dispostive question is whether we send someone to prison for 25 years to life for something that the victim himself forgives -- where the victim doesn't want the guy to do any more than a couple months (if that) in jail.  That's a harsh sentence.  Facially overly harsh, in my view.  What the victim in a case like this genuinely wants matters.  To me, anyway.  At least in a three strikes, rest-of-eternity-in-prison type of situation.

Maybe -- maybe -- I'd feel differently if the guy had committed three prior murders or stuff like that, and the instant offense is proof positive that it's just a matter of time before the guy impulsively kills again.  But there's no indication of substantially harsh criminal history in this opinion at all.

Because it mattered to me, I went back and looked at the guy's prior offenses.  Burglary, grand theft, assault, and possession.  Plus repeated parole violations.  Nontrivial, to be sure, but hardly the worst.  The guy obviously has a significant criminal past, plus a drug and impulse control problem.  So he uses and steals and -- as here -- occasionally gets pissed and punches people.

But 25 to life when it's a single sucker punch and the victim himself legitimately doesn't want the guy to serve pretty much any time?  Wow.

That's not to say, at all, that anything that transpired here was illegal, or contrary to law.  Maybe every single judge did what was totally within their discretion to do.  Probably, even.

But still.  Wow.  Incredibly harsh.

At least to me.