Thursday, March 10, 2005

Two opinions today

#1: Criminal law - automatic appeal
The Court upheld the death sentence of a defendant convicted of the 1991 kidnapping, sexual assault and murder of an 8-year-old elementary school student. The defendant, who was 23 at the time, was previously a teacher's aide at the victim's school.

The defendant was diagnosed as mildly to moderately mentally retarded. On this issue one interesting point caught my eye:

The Court held that the prosecution may introduce evidence of a defendant's mental illness as an aggravating consideration if that mental condition relates to "the circumstances of the crime." In previous cases, the Court has held that no reasonable juror could believe "that extreme mental or emotional disturbance . . . were circumstances in aggravation." People v. Benson, 52 Cal.3d 754 (1990). Here, however, evidence of the defendant's mental illness - and the inference that the defendant was a sexual sadist - was relevant to "the circumstances of the crime" (tying the victim up, post-mortem burning of the body, etc.) and thus admissible as aggravating evidence in the prosecution's case-in-chief. The Court distinguished between mental illness evidence related to the "circumstances of the crime" and mental illness evidence presented simply to draw the inference that the defendant is dangerous in general.

The case is People v. Smith (2005 WL 549550). The opinion can be accessed here.

#2: Civil Procedure - CA law and Federal Arbitration Act
The Court held that the Federal Arbitration Act (9 U.S.C. section 1 et seq.) does not preclude the application of a provision of the CA Arbitration Act (Cal. Code Civ. Pro. section 1281.2(c)), which permits a trial court in some circumstances to stay arbitration pending the outcome of related litigation. The parties in this case had agreed that their arbitration agreement would be governed by CA law. However, the Court noted that this decision does not preclude parties from expressly designating that any arbitration proceeding should go forward under the FAA's procedural provisions rather than under state procedural law.

The case is Cronus Investments, Inc. v. Concierge Services (2005 WL 549615). The opinion can be found here.


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