State v. Pierce (CA1 1/21/10)

We recently complained that the courts can’t say anything in less than nine pages, so we have to give credit where its due. This case deals with a fairly substantial issue in six. And we don’t want to seem ungrateful – we’re just trying, as always, to be helpful – when we point out that it should have been even shorter.

Pierce committed first-degree murder as a minor. He was sentenced to natural life. His argument on appeal was that natural life for a juvenile murder is unconstitutional.

The opinion deals with this in just two pages. Pierce cited the U. S. Supreme court case holding that the death penalty for a juvenile crime is unconstitutional. As various courts have pointed out, the case doesn’t apply to non-capital sentences.

So why is the opinion six pages long? Because it does what most criminal opinions feel obligated to do: it describes the crime in extended and entirely useless detail. The contention here was not that the sentence was inappropriate to the crime but that it could not be imposed at all, as a matter of law.

And yet the opinion tells us about the planning of the crime, its motivation, how the various perpetrators got to the scene, what their names were, what kind of weapons they had, and even what they were wearing. It also recounts several of Pierce’s unrepentant statements to police, including expletives that – having included them for no reason at all – it then censors  in such a way as to draw attention to them.

We know perfectly well that the kids and naifs who draft these things think that a statement of facts should be a summary of all the evidence. Its obvious that no adult has ever taught them that the only facts in an opinion should be those required to understand, interpret, and apply the holding, and that none has never bothered to edit the stuff they churn out. So perhaps that much isn’t their fault.

But what about the expletives? Do they think they’re being modern and clever by including “shit” in a judicial opinion and giving it pasties (“s**t”)? Does it make their pubescent pulses race to think that they’ve done something slightly “naughty”? Or is the pretense that they’re being “gritty” and “real”? And where are those adults, who merit selection assures us are the best and the brightest? The buck has to stop somewhere.