Tuesday, September 22, 2020

People v. Redus (Cal. Ct. App. - Sept. 22, 2020)

It's always a no-win situation if you're a justice on the Court of Appeal and you've got to decide a case like this one.  It involves an elderly man -- 74 years old -- who's been involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital for nearly a half century, since 1975.  That's when he was found not guilty by reason of insanity for killing his wife. Since then, he's been committed, and the government wants to keep him there, now and (presumably) forever.

It'd be an easy case if he was still completely crazy; if he was assaulting people, or throwing things, or refusing to take his medication, etc.  But none of that's true.  Zero violence.  Zero refusals.  He's simply a guy trying to make the best of a totally bad situation.  For the past 45 years.

Is he completely "normal"?  Of course not.  Let's see how even the most sane person would be after being locked up in a mental hospital for 45 years.  He doesn't really think he should be there.  He's got a theory that he's locked up due to some sort of "conspiracy" (or incompetence) of the psychiatrists at the hospital.  (I bet that'd be my theory too -- or lots of people's -- after being locked up for 45 years.)

So just letting the guy continue to rot in a mental hospital forever isn't at all an easy call.

But neither is letting the guy go.  He committed a murder.  You've got to be at least a little bit worried that he might do it again if he's released.  At which point the blood would be on your hands.  There's surely a non-zero risk of that.  After all, yes, he's done very well in a structured environment.  But the environment outside the hospital walls is significantly less structured.  Maybe he'll stop taking his meds once released.  (He doesn't really think he's crazy, after all.)  Maybe he'll relapse.  Who can be sure?

And it's not like it was just a regular old murder.  There's a reason he was found mentally ill, after all.  He stabbed his wife and then . . . "had postmortem vaginal and anal intercourse" with her dead body.  Why, you might ask?  "[B]ecause 'he was trying to prove a null hypothesis,' to be sure that performing these acts was not going to bring her back to life."

Uh, yeah.  That's fairly crazy.  (I'm not going to give away the plot, but this theory reminds me of a key scene in The Devil All the Time.  Though I don't think that even the avant-garde Netflix is going to use the whole "sex in the butt to bring 'em back to life, just in case" theory.)

Yet, still, the guy's 74 years old at this point.  Frail.  As one witness testified, “I mean, you could probably push him over with one finger.”  Is the guy really going to be able to harm anyone at this point?  And he's got a set life outside once released.  His daughter's still in touch with him.  She's in San Francisco and has a guest room all set up.  And she's no shrinking violent; she's a 22-year career deputy sheriff.  Not likely that this guy's going to stab her like he stabbed his wife.

But still.  Everyone's got to sleep sometimes.  Who knows?  Can you ever be sure?

So the justices have to decide.  And live with the resulting consequences.  Leave the guy locked up and you're responsible for basically continuing to take away the life of a frail 74-year old who might well be fine at this point.  Let the guy go and, if he hurts or kills someone, you're at fault for that as well.

What's the call?

The Court of Appeal basically decides to . . . let him go.

Crossing their fingers, no doubt, in the hope that they're right about him.

Time will tell.