Monday, June 23, 2014

Court Cures County's Reefer Madness

Hernandez v. County of Los Angeles, No. B243194 (D2d5 June 6, 2014)

Randy Hernandez got in a traffic accident on the 110. The CHP officer dispatched to investigate the accident While Randy and the other driver were waiting for the Highway Patrol to arrive, an L.A. County sheriff who happened to be driving on the freeway ran Randy over. Randy died. During the wrongful death case brought by Randy’s daughter, the county put in evidence that Randy used medical marijuana. But none of the county’s experts would attest that Randy’s reefer use bore any causal relationship to his getting run over. At closing, however, the county’s lawyer invited the jury to speculate that that it did. The jury verdict attributed 14 percent of the fault to Randy. The court here reverses.

Without evidence to connect Randy’s tea-taking to his death, it was irrelevant to any issue in dispute, so it shouldn’t have been admitted. And in any event, it was far more prejudicial than probative, so it should have been excluded under Evidence Code § 352. Moreover, the court, relying in part on post-deliberation juror declarations and surveys about many of the jurors’ negative perceptions of the tical, finds it more likely than not that the verdict would have changed if the evidence stayed out, so there was sufficient prejudice to merit reversal.


This all makes sense, and it’s good to see a court publish on an evidence issue. But I’m a little uncomfortable with relying on jury affidavits to decide prejudice. I’m not sure how these jurors’ beefs with Bob Hope satisfy Evidence Code § 1150’s limitation on the use of jury evidence to impeach a verdict. And by relying on these statements, the court encourages lawyers for losing parties to hassle jurors after they are released from service to get evidence to impeach their verdict. People already hate jury service enough. If service begins to routinely include repeated inquiries from losing lawyers to provide affidavits impeaching the verdict, people will hate it even more. 

As poignantly expressed by the jurist whose name adorns the courthouse in which this case was tried:
It would be a grave disservice to the integrity of the jury system and to the finality of judgments if we were to encourage probing into the subjective reasons behind the unanimous verdict in the case at bar. The affidavits were filed in connection with the motion for a new trial on damages because counsel erroneously believed a reviewing court can properly probe into jury discussions and in that manner ascertain the subjective concerns of jurors. Under that theory juries will be confined to the straitjacket of judges’ often arcane instructions, unable ever to modify “the rigor of the law” or express the “folk wisdom” and “conscience of the community.” What is worse, traditional jury secrecy will be at an end. Such a result would be regressive and counterproductive to the orderly and effective administration of justice.
 Ballard v. Uribe, 41 Cal. 3d 564, 577–78 (1986) (Mosk, J., concurring).

*Correction: The CHP officers dispatched to the scene of the accident arrived after Randy was run over by an L.A. County Sheriff.

1 comment:

  1. Geez, at least get the facts right. How on earth do you get "The CHP officer dispatched to investigate the accident ran Randy over" from the opinion in this case? That sentence all by itself has two errors in it. The officer who hit Randy was not dispatched to investigate the accident. And it was not a CHP officer who hit him; the defendant was the County of Los Angeles, which does not employ the CHP.