The Corner

Law & the Courts

Sanctuary Jury

From the last Morning Jolt of the week:

Sanctuary Jury

Upon hearing that the illegal immigrant who shot and killed Kate Steinle was acquitted of murder, involuntary manslaughter and assault charges, I was reminded of Robert Wuhl’s joke after the O.J. Simpson verdict: “What do you expect? It’s California. They haven’t convicted anybody since Charles Manson.”

The thing is, even if you believe Jose Ines Garcia Zarate’s version of events, that he accidentally fired the gun, didn’t aim at Steinle, and that she was killed when the bullet ricocheted and struck her, I don’t quite understand how his actions wouldn’t constitute “involuntary manslaughter.”

Check out the definition of “involuntary manslaughter” under California law:

Manslaughter is the unlawful killing of a human being without malice. It is of three kinds:

(a) Voluntary—upon a sudden quarrel or heat of passion.

(b) Involuntary—in the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to a felony; or in the commission of a lawful act which might produce death, in an unlawful manner, or without due caution and circumspection.

Wouldn’t firing a gun in a crowded public place amount to an act that might produce death in an unlawful manner, without due caution and circumspection? Doesn’t Zarate’s account amount to a confession of this?

You’re going to hear a lot of talk about “jury nullification” in the coming days, and it doesn’t sound all that farfetched. Zarate’s defense attorney was quick to make an argument to the Trump administration after the verdict:

Defense attorney Matt Gonzalez said this “verdict should be respected.”

Gonzalez, the chief attorney in the San Francisco’s Public Defender’s Office, said it was important to remember that the president, vice president and attorney general were under investigation themselves and should appreciate that they would be afforded the protections of the justice system.

“Before you start tweeting or commenting on this outcome, just reflect on the fact that all of us get these protections,” he said. “We get a right to a jury. We get these burdens of proof. We have to respect that a jury that spent this much time on this case got it right.”

Did they? By convicting Zarate of only illegal possession of a firearm, and nothing relating to the shooting, the jury effectively ruled that Zarate wasn’t responsible for her death.

I’m reminded of another cynical joke, this time from Dennis Miller: “How comforting is it to know that as a defendant in our criminal justice system, your fate is being decided by 12 people who were not smart enough to get out of jury duty.”

Attorney General Jeff Sessions was quick to issue a statement:

“When jurisdictions choose to return criminal aliens to the streets rather than turning them over to federal immigration authorities, they put the public’s safety at risk. San Francisco’s decision to protect criminal aliens led to the preventable and heartbreaking death of Kate Steinle. While the State of California sought a murder charge for the man who caused Ms. Steinle’s death—a man who would not have been on the streets of San Francisco if the city simply honored an ICE detainer—the people ultimately convicted him of felon in possession of a firearm. The Department of Justice will continue to ensure that all jurisdictions place the safety and security of their communities above the convenience of criminal aliens. I urge the leaders of the nation’s communities to reflect on the outcome of this case and consider carefully the harm they are doing to their citizens by refusing to cooperate with federal law enforcement officers.”

Zarate is not, however, a free man:

Acting U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Thomas Homan said that immigration officials will take custody of Jose Ines Garcia Zarate once his case concludes.

Alex Bastian, a spokesman for the San Francisco prosecutor’s office, said the “verdict that came in today was not the one we were hoping for” but it was the jury’s decision and prosecutors would respect it.

Jurors did find Garcia Zarate guilty of being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Public Defender Jeff Adachi said that charge carries a potential sentence of 16 months to 3 years.

Sarah Rumpf makes the argument that a good portion of the blame may lie with the prosecutors, for putting so much focus and effort on a first degree murder charge that the evidence simply couldn’t support: “This seems to be a classic example of prosecutorial overreach. They pushed hard for a first degree murder verdict, which requires not only proving that the defendant killed the victim, but that he did it intentionally, and that it was premeditated (planned or thought out beforehand).”

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