Tuesday, February 04, 2020

People v. Flores (Cal. Ct. App. - Feb. 4, 2020)

This is an otherwise unexceptional affirmance.  Except for one thing.

Fallon Flores was charged with murder but pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter, and after the passage of Senate Bill 1437, thinks she might be able to be resentenced under its provisions.  But the Court of Appeal holds otherwise.  Fair enough.

When Justice McConnell recites the (brief) facts of the case, however, she describes the crime as follows:

"In 2013, Flores and five codefendants were each charged by information with one count of the murder of victim John Doe [Cite] while they were engaged in the commission or attempted commission of a robbery [Cite] and a kidnapping . . . and acted for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with a criminal street gang, with the specific intent to promote, further, or assist in criminal conduct by gang members."

That's not especially unusual.  Robbed and kidnapped someone for the benefit of a gang.

But what's the deal with the "John Doe?"  It's not a sex crime case, or other situation in which we're typically hesitant to identify the victim.  You don't typically see that in cases like this, and the Court of Appeal doesn't explain anywhere why we're using a Doe.

It's especially unusual because we've expressly named the victim in other Court of Appeal decisions in this very same crime.  Remember that the Court of Appeal mentioned that Flores "and five codefendants" were charged with the crime.  Well, other defendants appealed their convictions as well.  And in those opinions, the Court of Appeal not only expressly mentions Fallon Flores' name, and not only expressly mention the name of the victim (Fernando Renteria), but also give a fair piece of detail about that victim (calling him "a small-time drug user and distributor in the Moreno Valley area of Riverside County").

It wouldn't bother me if we called every crime victim a Doe (though I think that using their actual names somewhat personalizes the crime and makes it feel more real).  Or if we only called them Doe in particular types of cases.

It just seemed unusual to me to see a Doe in this type of case.  Maybe a new trend.

POSTSCRIPT - An informed reader referred me to the Fourth Edition of the California Style Manual, which I looked up, and says (at Section 5.9, at page 179-80):  "The Supreme Court has issued the following policy statement to all appellate courts: 'To prevent the publication of damaging disclosures concerning living victims of sex crimes and minors innocently involved in appellate court proceedings it is requested that the names of these persons be omitted from all appellate court opinions whenever their best interests would be served by anonymity. Anonymity, however, is inappropriate for homicide victims, who are to be identified whenever possible.'"  Or, as the reader aptly put it:  "The ironclad rule forever was that murder victims must be named in court opinions, if for no other reason than to give them dignity."  Seems right to me.