Wednesday, January 27, 2021

People v. Williams (Cal. Ct. App. - Jan. 27, 2021)

Justice Petrou begins this opinion with the following paragraph:

"Defendant Malik Williams appeals from a judgment after a jury found him guilty of felony burglary of a home. The entire case against defendant was based upon latent fingerprints found at the crime scene and identified as a match to those of defendant. No witness identified defendant, there was no other evidence of defendant having been on the scene, defendant was not found to own a car consistent with the getaway car, and defendant was never found to be in possession or otherwise connected with items stolen from the home."

Given that opening, I thought that she was going to say that the evidence was insufficient as a matter of law, which would have been a bold holding given prior precedent.  But in the end, she just says that since the evidence of guilt was far from clear (which is definitely true), the trial court's prejudicial comments about the defense's cross-examination of the expert were prejudicial and required reversal.  Which also seems definitely true.

The opinion is a fairly damning indictment of the trial judge, Dan Healy (up in Solano County).  You've got to read the whole thing to get the proper flavor, but it suffices for now to say that Judge Healy went out of his way to interject himself in the defense counsel's cross-examination of the prosecution's critical fingerprint expert and assist the prosecution in making its case.  Improperly.

The Court of Appeal's opinion doesn't mention it, but Judge Healy was previously formally admonished by the Commission on Judicial Performance for improperly denigrating various litigants in family law court, calling some of them "rotten," "stupid and thuggish" and a "total human disaster."  Judge Healy was subsequently moved out of family law court and into criminal court.

Which doesn't look like it's necessarily working out awesomely either.