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Friday, May 21, 2010

Reasonableness and Community

A few years ago, while looking for cases to recast as hypotheticals for my Torts students, I came across an interesting example of juror confusion about the application of a reasonableness standard in People v. Calitina, 2002 WL 31820336 (Cal.App. 1 Dist. Dec 17, 2002) (NO. A093378).  Calitina is a criminal case where the defendant, Calitina, was out cruising with friends and got into a confrontation with people in another car.  There was a bit of a chase and Calitina shot at the other car apparently believing that it was occupied by armed men who had previously threatened him.  It turned out that the car was occupied by unarmed females, one of whom Calitina shot in the shoulder.  Calitina argued self-defense.

The full accounting of the jury deliberations is complicated, but in short Juror No. 9 had difficulty interpreting the jury instructions about the difference between reasonable and unreasonable self-defense.  The jury sent out a written question asking for the definition of a reasonable person and Juror No. 9 was ultimately brought into court and asked to describe her concerns:

Juror No. 9 asked for a definition of a reasonable person. The trial court recalled that she had asked how the law would apply as it relates to cultures and communities-it asked her to explain what she meant by this question. She asked if a reasonable person was one who reflected all the cultures of the country, if it meant what she would do, or if she should consider what people generally would consider reasonable in a specific situation. She found it difficult to determine what she, as a reasonable person, would do in a particular situation. She asked if she would be innocent if she did something that she thought was reasonable. She also asked if someone else would be guilty if they did something that appeared to them to be reasonable but would not be reasonable to her. She was uncertain what she might have done in the situation before the defendants-perhaps, she might have done the same thing that was done in this case, she told the trial court.

Juror No. 9 said that the jury had engaged in “a lot of discussing” on this issue and the others told her to “follow the law.” She told the trial court that she was trying to follow the law, but she was not certain what the law is. . . . She again requested a definition of what constituted a reasonable person. . . .

Juror No. 9 denied that her philosophy prevented her from following the law. She admitted having difficulty interpreting a particular phrase of the law to her satisfaction. The prosecutor asked her whether she would be prevented from continuing deliberations if the trial court could not provide her with more information. She replied that the question was not one of the charges in the case. Having thought about the underlying issue, she told the trial court that it was “almost as though [she had] to make [her] own interpretation of those words.” She thought that the standard to be applied should be one that reflected all communities, not just hers. Juror No. 9 stated that she was “not really sure” because it was a tough issue to resolve.

The court also questioned other jurors about the state of deliberations: 

Juror No. 7 opined that Juror No. 9's personal experiences were getting in the way of her ability to make a decision in the case. Juror No. 7 reported that Juror No. 9 said she was unsure what went on in a defendant's culture and in his life to make him believe that his action was reasonable or not. Juror No. 7 believed that Juror No. 9 was unable to decide this issue because she thinks this reasoning is biased or prejudiced.

Ultimately, the trial judge removed Juror No. 9 and Calitina was convicted – his claim of self-defense failed.  The Court of Appeal then held that discharge and replacement of Juror No. 9 during deliberations did not deprive Calitina of due process and a fair trial. 

I’m curious to hear what others think about the questions that Juror No. 9 raised about how to assess whether conduct is reasonable.  Does Juror No. 9’s confusion go beyond the difference between an objective and subjective standard and touch on more difficult questions about how to understand the “community” for purposes of assessing the reasonableness of conduct? 

I come at this from the perspective of how Tort law defines the reasonable person standard.  In Tort, the reasonable person is required to evaluate interests in accordance with the valuation placed upon them by the community sentiment crystallized into law; the reasonable person standard encompasses the values of the community and an individual’s idiosyncratic values (based on upbringing, etc.) are irrelevant.  Juror No. 9’s questions can, however, be interpreted to ask a deeper question – which community defines the standard?  (Perhaps criminal law provides a different or clearer answer?)   It seems like Juror No. 9 sensed that her “community” was different from that of Calitina’s.  Perhaps in Calitina’s neighborhood, the described car chase could support a reasonably apparent need for self defense while in Juror No. 9’s neighborhood it would not.

The Restatement of Torts, in discussing the reasonable person standard, references at different points the “community in which . . . conduct occurs” and what the “reasonable man at that time and place would know.”  This suggests that the relevant neighborhood/community is Calitina’s.  Although, by definition, isn’t a juror (peer) deemed part of the same community as the litigants?  Or perhaps the location is simply a circumstance to be considered in assessing the conduct of a reasonable and prudent person “in like or similar circumstances”?

I welcome thoughts about Juror No. 9’s (and my own) musings.

Posted by Katrina Kuh on May 21, 2010 at 09:12 AM in Torts | Permalink

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