Thursday, April 30, 2020

People v. Torres (Cal. Ct. App. - April 30, 2020)

Tony Torres is 76 years old and has been in prison for murder since 1995 (his sentence is 25 years to life).  He's asked to get out of prison so he can die under the compassionate release program, which seeks to save the state some money by letting prisoners die at home.

Mr. Torres has widely metastatic prostate cancer all over his body.  He's confined to a wheelchair, has to wear a permanent hard cervical collar on his neck (given the cancer all in his spine), and his sister's willing to take care of him at her home in hospice care until he dies.  Everyone agrees that Mr. Torres satisfies the two requirements for compassionate release:  he (1) has less than six months to live, and (2) presents no danger to the public if released.

The question is:  One these two elements are established, does the Board have to release Mr. Torres to die?  Or can it decide, in its discretion, to let him rot in prison instead?  (Here, because a majority of the Board thought that Mr. Torres' "came late to the party" with respect to his expression of remorse for the crimes he had committed.)

The majority says that he's gotta be released; that once the two criteria are established, the state wants to save money, so he gets out.  No danger plus dying very soon equals freedom.  The dissent says that is not the law:  the Board still has discretion, so its their call, even if the statutory qualifications for release are satisfied.

Both positions are articulated extremely well:  for the majority, by Justice Codrington, and for the dissent, by Justice Menetrez.

I'll leave the merits to the respective authors, since I can't improve on either very much.  Two very tangential points instead.

First:  It's a bit funny that no one expressly connects the dots to mention that the experts declared in April 2019 that Mr. Torres had less than six months to live and yet here it is, over a year later, and he is . . . still alive.  The Court of Appeal decides the case as quickly as it can, and issues the remittitur ASAP, presumably because if we thought that Mr. Torres had less than six months to live back then, his life expectancy at this point is much lower.  Still.  The guy's heart keeps on beating.  Even the best medical science can't necessarily predict how long someone with metastatic prostate cancer is going to live.

Second, on a personal note:  Today, the California appellate courts issued not one, not two, not three, but rather fourteen separate published opinions.  Wow.  Really trying to finish April off with a bang, eh?  Even without reading the Ninth Circuit stuff, reading the California opinions -- which total well over three hundred pages today -- took the majority of my working day.  Thank goodness school is over for the semester.  (Except for the fun part:  Grading.  *Sarcasm Alert*)