Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Monday, June 10, 2002


Page 3


C.A. Rejects Attempt to Restrict Death Row Inmate’s Contact With Jurors


By ROBERT GREENE, Staff Writer


The state’s attempt to supervise a convicted murderer’s contact with the former jurors who sentenced him to death was rejected Friday by an appeals court, which ruled that a Kern Superior Court judge’s earlier order denying the restrictions on contacts was not appealable.

The ruling by the Fifth District Court of Appeal means Death Row inmate Vicente Figueroa Benavides will be able to contact ex-jurors under the provisions of existing state law. Code of Civil Procedure Sec. 206 allows contacts only with the jurors’ permission and restricts them to reasonable times and places.

Prosecutors wanted Benavides’ lawyers to first show good cause to contact the jurors, then either get court approval to make direct contacts, allow contact only under direct court supervision, or eliminate direct contact altogether and communicate through the court. The restrictions were rejected by Judge James M. Stuart.

Attorney General Bill Lockyer’s office argued that Stuart abused his discretion, or in the alternative that the Court of Appeal should declare a new rule prohibiting litigants from contacting ex-jurors absent a good cause showing or that juror interviews be conducted under court supervision when warranted.

But Justice Steven M. Vartabedian said Stuart’s order could not be appealed since it was a post-conviction order that did not affect the substantial rights of the people. It was not enough to argue, as Lockyer’s office did, that juror contacts could lead to tampering, which could lead to delay, which in turn could affect the people’s right to finality in the proceeding.

Earlier cases in which a trial judge vacated a death penalty judgment, or allowed the defendant to post bail pending appeal, or modified a prison judgment by substituting a fine, could be appealed since they directly altered the judgment or affected the defendant’s status under the judgment, Vartabedian explained.

The order in Benavides’ case did not put in place any such change, the justice said. He explained:

“It did not alter the judgment. It did not affect defendant’s status postjudgment. It did not preclude the People from having access to something that was previously routinely accessible. The order of the trial court here did not change or alter anything already in existence. The order thus does not fall within the types of cases where it has been held that the order affected the substantial rights of the People.”

Sec. 206 offers controls on juror contacts and does not leave a completed trial more subject to lack of finality, the justice said, and other laws and procedures that impose time limits on habeas corpus petitions also make sure the prosecution’s rights are not denied, he said.

The case is Peple v. Benavides, F037844.


Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company