Thursday, December 05, 2019

People v. Ollo (Cal. Ct. App. - Dec. 5, 2019)

I'll slightly rephrase the question raised by the Court of Appeal in today's opinion.

You've got an 18-year old boyfriend and a 16-year old girlfriend.  The boyfriend says he's scored some coke and wants to know if the girlfriend wants some; she says yes.  She comes over, they have sex, and the girlfriend takes a toot.  Totally unknown to the boyfriend, the "cocaine" he's been sold is actually fentanyl, and she dies.

We know he's guilty of giving a controlled substance to a minor.  Two questions:  (1) Is he also guilty of personally inflicting great bodily injury on the victim?  He (of course) intended the act that led to a death -- even though he clearly didn't intend the death -- but is the victim's voluntary ingestion of the drug a superseding cause?  (2) If the answer to (1) is "yes," what's the appropriate sentence?

The Court of Appeal is split on the answer to (1).  Today's opinion falls on the side of saying that you are indeed criminally responsible for inflicting great bodily injury in this setting, and that it's not a defense that the victim took the drug voluntarily.  And, as for (2), Mr. Ollo -- Treyvon, if that means anything to you -- gets sentenced to twelve years in prison.  For a death that he clearly didn't intend.

Of course, if it's one's own daughter who dies, the desire for vengeance would undoubtedly be strong.  Maybe you'd want the 18-year old to spend a dozen years in prison.  On the legal question, I'm not at all certain the Legislature wanted people convicted of inflicting great bodily injury -- a serious offense -- when the victim engaged in voluntary conduct that led to the death.  Maybe not.  Maybe so.

On a policy level:  You help a friend trespass and they accidentally fall to their death; guilty of this serious offense?  You give a friend with a severe headache one of your prescription Tylenol with codeine pills and she dies; guilty of deliberately inflicting great bodily injury upon her?  You intended the act, after all, and that act is not legal.  Twelve years in prison?  For you or, if it was your child who tried to help with the headache instead of you, your 18-year old daughter?

Maybe.  Maybe everyone's okay with calling these things the infliction of great bodily injury.  But there are very, very serious offenses involving the deliberate infliction of great bodily injury in which the defendant doesn't get 12 years in prison.  I'm just not sure that we're trying to fit a round peg into a square hole when you've got one crime (furnishing drugs to a minor) that squarely fits the offense but we charge a much greater offense that's generally used for deliberate attacks and the like.