Internet Proves Pigs Can Fly, Judge Says

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He was being just a tad sarcastic, but he did say it.

On April 6, the California Court of Appeal vacated a lower court's ruling that Steven Martinez should be granted a "compassionate release" from prison because he is a quadriplegic.  The state's Board of Parole Hearings refused to recommend release, and on appeal it argued that compassionate release is only allowed if the inmate's "condition is such that the defendant would not pose a threat to public safety if released from custody."  Cal. Penal Code § 1170(e)(2).  There was at least "some evidence," it argued, that Martinez might pose a threat if released.  The Court of Appeal held that the lower court should have deferred to the Board's determination.

Just to recap: the Board argued that a quadriplegic, whose spinal cord has been severed and who cannot move any of his arms or legs, might be a threat to public safety.

Now, there is no question that Steven Martinez is a Bad Man.  He became a quadriplegic after he was stabbed by another inmate, and at the time he was serving a sentence of 157 to life for attacking two women, sexually assaulting one and inflicting horrible injuries on her.  The court also noted that Martinez had continued to be – and this is an understatement - "inappropriate and disrespectful," even to nurses trying to care for him.  So do not feel sorry for Steven Martinez.  But do shed at least a single tear for California taxpayers who have to pay for the medical care of an incarcerated quadriplegic.  And, after all, the statute isn't about release for being a Nice Guy.  It covers release on "compassionate" grounds of inmates who are so old or sick that they pose no threat.  Under the majority's full-deference, "some evidence" standard, which kept a quadriplegic in jail, it is hard to see who would ever be released if the Board objected.

That, at least, is what Justice Rick Sims argued in dissent, and this is where the case gets entertaining. Sims said it appeared that the majority was requiring absolute certainty that a prisoner could pose no threat.  But "[n]obody in their right mind," he wrote, "would ever find that there is no chance whatsoever that a convicted felon – even a quadriplegic – would commit another crime if released . . . . This cannot be what the legislature intended when it enacted the [statute] to save money."

Sims had a field day with some of the majority's examples.  It had noted that Martinez said to a nurse, "You're lucky I can't walk [or else] I'd kick your ass."  "In my view," Sims wrote, "this is simply bar talk . . . . Martinez could not kick at all, let alone kick someone's ass."  Then he turned to the majority's point that "experience has shown that [even] quadriplegics can commit violent crimes."  It had cited three newspaper stories and one reported case in support of this position, one of which involved a quadriplegic who had somehow contrived to shoot his wife with a pistol using a string held in his mouth.  The dissent's response is worth quoting in full:

I have two points to make with respect to this argument [that quadriplegics may be dangerous].

The first is it demonstrates that, with the help of a good Internet search engine, you can prove anything, including that pigs can fly. (See, e.g., Pigs Really Can Fly . . . With the Help of a Trampoline (Dec. 5, 2009) Telegraph UK <> [as of Dec. 16, 2009]; When Pigs Fly, They Go 1st Class (Oct. 29, 2000) The Washington Post, A04 <> [as of Dec. 16, 2009]; Rowland, Sure Pigs Fly–But is that Art? (Jan. 21, 1995) San Diego Union-Tribune, p. B3 <> [as of Dec. 16, 2009].)

The second point is that the majority’s citation of these quadriplegic crime stories actually supports my argument. Thus the majority’s four accounts are drawn from the entire country and span a period of 38 years–from 1972 to the present. I am sure that if there were more stories of this ilk, the majority would have found them. Four stories in the country in 38 years is darn few. Indeed, the stories are written and reported because the commission of serious crimes by quadriplegics is so rare and bizarre that they are newsworthy. Thus I am willing to take the risk that petitioner Martinez will fire a pistol with a string in his mouth. Indeed, given the hundreds of thousands of dollars that Martinez is costing the State each year, it is a risk that we all must take.

The majority, though, rejected Justice Sims' plea for a reasonableness standard, saying the Legislature would have to amend the statute.  It is tempting to say that will happen when pigs fly, but now I don't know if I can use that expression anymore.

Link: Martinez v. Board of Parole Hearings, No. C061031 (Cal. App. 3 Dist. Apr. 6, 2010).