Monday, August 31, 2020

People v. DelRio (Cal. Ct. App. - Aug. 31, 2020)

It's like the Wild West out here.  At least that's the conclusion that one might reasonably draw from Justice Wiley's opinion.

No one really knows what happened for sure.  The only eyewitness -- the only living one, anyway -- is the defendant, Mr. DelRio.  Mr. DelRio says that he and his cousin, Mr. Prieto, got into an argument in front of a house on a cul-de-sac, at which point Mr. Prieto drew a gun, so Mr. DelRio drew his own gun and shot him dead.  High noon on the mean streets of Los Angeles.

But the jury thought otherwise, and convicted Mr. DelRio of second-degree murder.

We do know one thing for sure:  Mr. DelRio is the much better shot.  "Prieto shot his nine-millimeter pistol 15 times but missed every time. DelRio fired his .40- caliber pistol twice. Each bullet hit Prieto. Each was fatal."

This paragraph of the opinion reminded me starkly of the Old West:

"Who drew first? That question is key. If Prieto was first with his hand on a gun, the prosecution would have a hard time disproving DelRio’s defense of self-defense, for a man with a gun in hand can be an instant and deadly threat."

Proof positive that the more things change (in the law and otherwise), the more they stay the same.

The Court of Appeal reverses the conviction on the ground that Mr. DelRio had the right to introduce testimony that the victim, Mr. Prieto, had previously engaged in domestic violence.  You generally can't introduce such evidence to establish that a defendant is guilty (to try to show that "once a criminal always a criminal") unless its a modus operandi or the like.  But the Court of Appeal says that you can introduce such evidence vis-a-vis the victim, on the theory that once an aggressor (even in a very dissimilar context like domestic violence), always an aggressor.  It'd also be an affirmative abuse of discretion, the Court of Appeal holds, to have excluded this evidence as more prejudicial than probative, even though we all know that one of the reasons defendant wanted to introduce this evidence is to show that Mr. Prieto somewhat "deserved" to die (or at least that we shouldn't be very sad about that result).

The Wild West indeed.