To commemorate the 100th year of USF School of Law, the Supreme Court of California was invited to hold three cases to be deliberated at USF on Feb. 5, including medical marijuana in Riverside county, plea bargaining, and the death penalty.
The event was held to give the public a better understanding of the way the state’s justice system works, as well as allow the students to participate in a question and answer session with the Justices. The hearings attracted hundreds of students, professors, and other legal scholars from all over the Bay Area.
Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye said the session would “provide a group of law school and local high school students with a unique opportunity to question Supreme Court justices and to experience their constitutional democracy in action, and hopefully will inspire some to a career in public service.”
Due to the growingly contentious debate of medical marijuana possession and distribution, the case involving this topic received special attention from the bulk of university students. In the first hearing of the City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness Center, Inc., the debate revolved around the recent ordinance that the city of Riverside passed which outlaws medical marijuana dispensaries, defining them as a “public nuisance.”
In 1996, the Compassionate Use Act (CUA) was enacted by voters that allows California citizens to use marijuana for medical purposes if they are deemed seriously ill. The court was debating whether or not Riverside’s recent ordinance violates the statewide act.
Jeffrey V. Dunn was the defendant representing Riverside and the appellant involved in the case. An appellant in someone who applies to a higher court for reversal of a lower court decision. J. David Nick, is the primary attorney for the Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness Center. Nick, who graduated from the USF School of Law in 1991, has been practicing law for the past 20 years.
“The court’s decision is going to determine the future of medical marijuana outlets throughout California. State law cannot be contradicted by local municipalities,” Nick said.
The second case involved a process that is used to resolve criminal charges in California and is known as plea bargaining. Plea bargaining is used by the defendant in order to give them a lesser charge so they don’t have to go to trial.
The defendant Dallas Sacher involved was charged with primarily theft-related felonies and misdemeanors. He argued to not go to trial because he was already given one strike within the parameters of the Three Strikes Law, which says that if the defendant is convicted of three felonies, they are sentenced to life in prison on the third strike.
In a bargaining process such as this, the court is not allowed to agree upon any bargain because it is based on the decision of the prosecutor. In this People v. Clancey debate, the issue was whether or not it was proper for the court to become involved in the plea bargaining process.
The last case concerned George Brett Williams, who was found guilty for the murder of Willie Thomas and Jack Barron in Los Angeles on January 2, 1990.
At the previous trial, there was no police officer that Williams had worked with as an informant, so he thought the trial would have resulted in a more favorable outcome, even though his fingerprints were found in the room in which the victims had been shot as well as on the truck where the victims’ bodies were dragged.
The importance of these cases being present on the USF campus rings true for students after the hearings took place. Franky Peterson, a sophomore legal studies scholar said she was extremely grateful she was granted access to the event. “USF School of Law is already nationally renowned and I think this helped bring attention to our strong interest in both legal action and social justice,” he said.
Being that these cases were preliminary hearings, final decisions remain to be seen.
To follow the cases, go to www.courts.ca.gov/opinions, which releases the opinions of the Supreme Court once a consensus has been made, about 90 days after the hearing.