Thursday, November 1, 2007
S.C. to Consider ‘Natural and Probable Consequences’ Rule
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court yesterday agreed to decide whether two gang members who participated in an assault on a rival were properly convicted of murder based on a fellow member’s having shot at the victim’s vehicle.
The justices, at their weekly conference in San Francisco, voted unanimously to review a July 23 ruling by Div. Four of this district’s Court of Appeal, which reversed the convictions of George J. Marron and Raymond Vallejo, while affirming the conviction of the shooter, Jose J. Medina. The case is People v. Medina, B189049.
Prosecutors want the high court to reject Div. Four’s conclusion that Medina’s act of shooting at Ernie Barba’s vehicle was not a “natural and probable consequence” of a fistfight that took place earlier between the defendants, members of the Hawthorne-area Lil Watts gang, and Barba, who indicated an affiliation with another gang.
Witnesses testified that Barba showed up at the party, at a Lancaster home, about 11 p.m. When the defendants and others got up, and someone asked Barba where he was from, he replied “Sanfer,” meaning the San Fernando gang.
When Medina responded angrily, the owner of the house asked the parties to take their differences outside, where the fistfight raged between Barba and the defendants.
The homeowner, Manuel Ordenes, said he had a difficult time breaking up the fight, but eventually got Barba away from the defendants and walked him to his car. As Barba drove away, he was shot, fatally.
Jurors found Medina, Marron, and Vallejo guilty—a fourth defendant was acquitted—and Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William R. Pounders sentenced the three to 50 years to life in prison.
Justice Stephen Suzukawa, writing for the Court of Appeal, explained that under the natural-and-probable consequences doctrine, the non-shooters could be convicted of the murder if they knew Medina had a gun, the shooting and the fist fight occurred at the same time, the fistfight was planned, the gangs were engaged in an ongoing rivalry, or Marron and Vallejo agreed to kill Barba, or aided in the killing. But none of that was shown to have happened, the justice said.
“In order to find Marron and Vallejo responsible for Barba’s murder, we would have to accept the Attorney General’s argument that all participants in a fistfight between gang members that is precipitated by the well-worn phrase ‘where you from?’ must reasonably foresee that someone will die. Notwithstanding the violence which most gang confrontations spawn, on our facts, viewed objectively, we cannot conclude that an unplanned fight between unarmed combatants in front of a residence was reasonably likely to lead to a shooting resulting in death. In essence, the Attorney General is asking us to create a new theory of liability. An aider and abettor would be responsible for any crime that was a natural and possible consequence of the target crime. That, we cannot do.”
In other conference action, the justices denied review of a July 31 ruling by this district’s Div. Seven that the doctrine of qualified immunity, under which a government agent accused of a federal civil rights violation cannot be sued if the right he or she is alleged to have violated was not clearly established at the time, has no application to claims brought under California civil rights law.
That case is Venegas v. County of Los Angeles, B186764.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company