Friday, February 03, 2023

People v. Fernandez (Cal. Ct. App. - Feb. 1, 2023)

I've attempted in vain to think of a legal issue more depressing than the one squarely presented by the competing opinions in this case, which solely involves the following issue:

Was the evidence here sufficient to support an inference that the defendant intended to kill his 13 week old baby when he tortured him?

Everyone admits the baby was (allegedly) killed. Everyone admits that the baby was (allegedly) tortured. The only question is whether the evidence is sufficient, at this stage, to prove that the father intended to kill the baby during the torture that was inflicted upon him.

Justice Raphael, joined by Justice Menetrez, thinks it was. He says (in summary) that "It is rational to infer that a person who, over a few weeks, struck an infant in ways that broke most of his ribs, fractured his skull, wounded his brain recurrently, and induced head-to-toe bruises “could not have been unaware” that death could result from the blows. This is a rational ground for concluding that Fernandez intended to kill Marco when torturing him." (citations omitted)

Justice Ramirez, in dissent, thinks it wasn't. He says (in summary) that although "[t]here is no debate defendant tortured the baby with continuing pain-inducing acts," the "the only act described in evidence [that resulted in the baby's death] was the act of throwing the child onto a bed, after which the child fell or rolled onto the floor," and the fact that the child suffered horrific other injuries didn't establish that there was an intent to kill the baby at the time of those other injuries.

I'll not recount the horrible, horrible injuries to the baby. As I said, they are incredibly depressing. It's a 13-week infant, after all. You can read all about them in the opinion, if you'd like.

But I don't recommend it. It's stuff difficult to forget. (Especially alongside the dissent's comparison to other -- even more egregious cases -- involving other alleged torture-related deaths of infants.)