Wednesday, January 22, 2020

In Re Duval (Cal. Ct. App. - Jan. 22, 2020)

This is certainly embarrassing for the Orange County District Attorney's office.

Jeffrey Duval had some methamphetamine and some other bad stuff, and entered a guilty pleas with an agreed-upon two year jail sentence.  The caveat being that he had to make sure to show up at his sentencing hearing.

Which he didn't.  So on that day, instead of the two-year deal, he gets sentenced in absentia to over nine and a half years in prison.  At that hearing, Duval's counsel apparently did nothing; didn't object to the sentence, didn't ask for a hearing on whether Duval was deliberately absent or not, and didn't present any evidence as to why his client wasn't there.

The very next day, Duval shows up, and is taken into custody.  The day after, the trial court recalled the nine-plus year sentence and sentenced Duval to five years.

So Duval gets three extra years in jail for being a day late to his sentencing.  And we still don't know why he missed that initial day.

Duval files various habeas petitions claiming that his counsel was ineffective for not doing anything at the initial hearing, and although the lower courts aren't receptive, the California Supreme Court is, and orders an OSC.  On remand, the hearing happens, and yet, the Orange County District Attorney's Office shows up at the hearing, but doesn't file anything.  Doesn't respond to the OSC at all.  Which is unusual, since the California Supreme Court had expressly called for "an order directing [the People] to show cause before the Orange County Superior Court why petitioner is not entitled to the relief requested.”  And yet the People did not, in fact, show such cause.

So at the hearing, the trial court says:  "Well, you didn't respond at all.  We call that a default.  So I'm going to sentence the guy to four years.  Which is how long he's been in jail at this point.  Yeah, that's still two years longer than the agreed-upon two-year deal.  But whatchagonnado?  It's at close as we can get to justice at this point."  (I'm paraphrasing.  Clearly.)

At which point the District Attorney appeals.

Resulting in today's published opinion.

Justice Thompson's opinion isn't mean or anything.  But it's nonetheless a twelve-page, published slapdown.  Basically saying:  "Uh, guy.  Habeas petitions and OSCs are like civil complaints.  You've got to respond.  Otherwise we take your default, on the assumption you agree that relief should be granted.  It's a pretty basic concept.  So your appeal regarding what transpired below is very much not well-taken."  (Paraphrasing, again.)

You might have thought that the Orange County District Attorney's Office would have just taken their lumps on this one below rather than continuing to press the matter and generate a published opinion.  Particularly since the relief granted was hardly outrageous; the District Attorney thought a two-year sentence was fine when they negotiated the deal, and the guy actually did four, all for being a day late.  I'd have thought that, plus the errors by the DA below, would have been more than sufficient to call it a day.

But apparently not.

Oh well.  Case over now.

Albeit with a permanent record for everyone to see of what's probably not the OC DA's especially finest hour.