October 11, 2012
The Supreme Court today announced its November oral argument calendar. There are only three cases on it, an unusually light load.
Interestingly, two of the three cases are death penalty appeals, which come to the Supreme Court automatically and directly from the trial court.
What makes it interesting is that, as we’ve noted, California voters will soon decide whether to approve Proposition 34, which would eliminate the death penalty in the state, convert all existing death sentences to life without parole, and give the Supreme Court the discretion to transfer all pending death penalty appeals and habeas corpus petitions to the Court of Appeal or superior court.
What makes it even more interesting is that oral arguments are scheduled for the day after Election Day and that, under the initiative’s terms, if approved, Prop. 34 will take effect on the same day as oral argument.
So, imagine preparing for these oral arguments.
Although counsel will know they’ll need to argue the legal issues related to the defendant’s guilt, they’ll also know that the issues regarding the penalty phase of the trial could become moot just hours before the oral arguments begin. And then consider the possibility that the outcome of the Prop. 34 vote is still unknown when the arguments start. (That’s not so far-fetched — it took weeks to determine the result of one initiative last June and the most recent Field Poll on Prop. 34 shows voters closely divided.)
This all gives new meaning to Mr. Dooley’s famous observation that “th’ Supreme Coort follows th’ election returns.”
The court on November 7 will hear the following cases (with the issue presented as stated on the court’s website):
Apple, Inc. v. Superior Court: Does the Song-Beverly Credit Card Act of 1971 (Civ. Code, section 1747 et seq.), which prohibits retailers from recording a customer’s personal identification information when the customer uses a credit card in a transaction, preclude on-line retailers from obtaining and recording a purchaser’s address and telephone number as a prerequisite to accepting a credit card as payment for a purchase of an item that does not need to be shipped to the purchaser?
[An unusual fact about the Apple case: the Supreme Court granted review and will issue a decision on the merits after the Court of Appeal summarily denied a writ petition. Normally, the Supreme Court will grant review and transfer the case back to the Court of Appeal in those situations. Rarely will the Supreme Court decide a case on its merits without the benefit of a Court of Appeal opinion.]
People v. Watkins: [This is an automatic appeal from a May 1992 judgment of death. The court's website does not list issues for such appeals.]
People v. Whalen: [This is an automatic appeal from a June 1996 judgment of death. The court's website does not list issues for such appeals.]