After waiting all this time to get the Tai Abreu case back on the court calendar we are reduced to reporting only that the new felony murder law, Senate Bill 1437, is still on hold as being “unconstitutional” in the opinion of some prosecutors across the state. They say the legislators passed the bill in spite of the Proposition 15 that put the felony murder rule in place.
(The felony murder rule says that if you participate in a felony that results in a murder, no matter what your level of awareness or intent, you are guilty of murder too.)
Several judges are now considering the constitutionality argument and more 1437 case are steadily coming back into local courts, as each county has its own petitioners from the prison system trying to get hearings for reduced sentences.
Our own District Attorney doesn’t seem to care over-much about the actual facts of Abreu’s case, as DA David Eyster has taken up the “constitutionality” issue in his own right and used it to block and delay Abreu’s hearing, along with two or three other pending applications concerning people from Mendocino County serving sentences under the old felony murder rule, which said, in effect, if you were a participant in a felony and present at a murder, you would be charged with the crime of murder yourself.
Last Thursday was the same day that the lawyer responsible for Abreu’s LWOP murder conviction died. The late Linda Thompson, former Public Defender convinced the then-19 year old Fort Bragg youth to take his case to a jury then presented no defense at all, arguing only that Abreu had not been properly Mirandized before being interrogated. Abreu got Life-Without, while the other two kids who committed the crime took plea bargains for lesser sentences.
One of those kids, Aaron Channel, has been out of prison for nearly three years. The other, August Stuckey, will soon appear before the parole board.
Judge Ann Moorman recalled the case and said she’d received the People’s (Eyster’s) motion to dismiss (on the grounds of unconstitutionality), dated March 19th; and the supplemental motion to dismiss (on the same grounds), dated March 22nd; then an added supplemental added May 6th – “actually,” the judge said, “there were two on that day. What they are is opinions.”
This then, is the battle Eyster is waging: He sits in his bunker and lobs shells at Abreu’s petition for relief as various state courts supply him with more and more ammo.
The judge read a number of these – the names of the judges who had ruled that the new law was unconstitutional around the state. There were five or six, and I didn’t get the names of the judges or the counties involved, as I considered it was more than anyone but a lawyer would be interested in reading, and the same thought applied to the few cases that Abreu’s new (old) lawyer, deputy public defender Jessyca Hoagland, cited where the judges had ruled that the law was indeed constitutional, and the application in question was valid.
And that was it. Nothing substantial happened. Judge Moorman said she would take the various cases under submission, and that it would take her at least 30 days to read ‘em all, which, to me sounded somewhat disingenuous, since it is hard to imagine any judge hasn’t been following these various rulings as closely as us journalists are following the developments in the Julian Assange case.
DA Eyster said, “On behalf of he People, we have plenty [of these cases showing the State Bill is an infringement on Prop. 15] before the court, and any further argument I made would be redundant, but I stand by my assertion that it [the new felony murder Senate Bill] is unconstitutional.”
Ms. Hoagland said, “I, too, am prepared to submit on the materials before the court, and without restating the opinions of [the various judges she had named and submitted].”
As to any future dates, the judge said if she set any date for an evidentiary hearing to determine the merits of Abreu’s case, she would only have to vacate it in the event of a stay based on a ruling on constitutionality. “The issue is percolating all over the place,” Her Honor concluded, “and somebody at the appellate level will eventually cause something to happen.”
Until then, however, Tai Abreu was sent back to High Desert State Prison to wait it out.
ED NOTE: The core of the "constitutional issue," as argued by Trumpian district attorneys throughout the state is this: The state legislature can't overturn a vote of the people with a new law that contradicts that popular vote. The state legislature, however, is also elected by popular vote with a mandate to legislate. And, for once, our state legislature, recognizing the one-size-fits-all injustice of the old California Murder Rule, has made room for people caught up in a murder they neither expected nor participated in, to appeal their convictions. How a just person could disagree, and I happen to think our DA is a just person, beats me.