Court of Appeal:
Judge Had Decried Defendant, Who Confessed His Crimes to Police, Subjecting Young Girls to Trauma of Testifying Rather Than Accepting Plea Offer
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A man who was found guilty by a jury on a panoply of child molestation counts and was sentenced to 330 years to life in prison will be resentenced, under a decision by Div. Six of this district’s Court of Appeal, because the judge had faulted the defendant, who had confessed his crimes, for not accepting the prosecution’s sentence offer and pleading guilty rather than creating the necessity of his victims, young girls, testifying.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mark S. Arnold commented at Lorenzo Casimiro’s sentencing hearing:
“What is particularly despicable about this defendant, not only what he did to these little girls, he robbed them of their innocence and of their childhood, but he was offered a plea bargain and he didn’t accept it. And I don’t know why he didn’t accept it because he confessed to the police. He could have accepted the plea bargain. He could have accepted the sentence that was offered by [the prosecution], but he made these little girls come into the courtroom and be victims all over again by having to testify as to what this defendant did. Shame on him.”
Those words, Presiding Justice Arthur Gilbert wrote, require a remand for resentencing.
He explained, in his opinion, which was filed Wednesday and not certified for publication:
“The trial court’s comments are disturbing. The court stated what is ‘particularly despicable’ about Casimiro is, not only what he did to his victims, but that he did not accept a plea bargain and he made his victims testify at trial. It is difficult to view the court’s comments, made immediately before sentencing, as having no bearing on the sentence. It is true that the indeterminate terms imposed on most of Casimiro’s convictions were not discretionary….But the court had the discretion to impose concurrent or consecutive terms….The court chose consecutive.”
Gilbert went on to say:
“Of course, it is entirely possible that the court’s comments had no bearing on its sentencing choices. But given that Casimiro was sentenced to 330 years to life, it seems prudent to remand for sentencing.”
Casimiro had been sentenced on 16 felony counts, with an enhancement.
High Court Opinion
The jurist found the facts “not much different from” those presented in In re Lewallen, decided by the California Supreme Court in 1979. There, a petition for a writ of habeas corpus was granted based on comments of a trial judge which included this:
“I think I want to emphasize there’s no reason in having the District Attorney attempt to negotiate matters if after the defendant refuses a negotiation he gets the same sentence as if he had accepted the negotiation. It is just a waste of everybody’s time, and what’s he got to lose[?] And as far as I’m concerned, if a defendant wants a jury trial and he’s convicted, he’s not going to be penalized with that, but on the other hand he’s not going to have the consideration he would have had if there was a plea.”
Writing for the majority, Justice Stanley Mosk said:
“We conclude that when the judge’s statements are viewed as a whole, there can be no rational interpretation other than that he was basing petitioner’s sentence at least in part on the fact that he declined the prosecution’s plea bargain and demanded a trial by jury.”
“That a defendant pleads not guilty is completely irrelevant at sentencing; if a judge bases a sentence, or any aspect thereof, on the fact that such a plea is entered, error has been committed and the sentence cannot stand.”
Justice William P. Clark Jr. dissented in that case, saying:
“The majority opinion reveals a profound misunderstanding of both the trial judge’s remarks and the constitutional principles applicable to plea bargaining.
“A fair reading of the record clearly reveals the judge was saying: (1) Under a plea bargaining system a defendant pleads guilty in exchange for more lenient treatment than he could reasonably expect to receive upon being convicted after trial. (2) Therefore, while a defendant who pleads not guilty and is convicted after jury trial must not be penalized for exercising his constitutional rights, he is not necessarily entitled to the lenient treatment he would have received for pleading guilty. Rather, such a defendant must show that leniency is appropriate under the facts and circumstances of his case.”
Gilbert’s opinion comes in People v. Casimiro, BA466536.
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