Appeals Court demystifies process with Susanville visit
The justices and attorneys also answered questions from the students during a question and answer session following the oral arguments.
The justices did not make any decisions on the cases on Wednesday, but the court will send the decisions to the high schools so students can study the cases further and understand why the court ruled the way it did.
The Placer County case, The People of the State of California v. Stacey Victoria Scott, focuses on the issues regarding a warrantless search conducted by sheriff’s deputies and welfare workers.
According to the prosecution, the deputies and the welfare workers entered the residence because they were concerned about the welfare of the defendant’s child.
The defense contends the officers entered the residence as part of a criminal investigation.
Once inside the residence, officers discovered stolen property in plain view. Scott was arrested and found guilty of burglary and receiving stolen property. Scott was sentenced to five years probation and 300 days in county jail.
The Lassen County case, Pit River Tribe v. Milford Donaldson, et al, focused on attempts by Native Americans to recover human bones and artifacts disturbed by a Caltrans project on Highway 44.
This case presented a number of technical legal questions regarding the standing of both the appellants and the respondents. Standing is a legal term which defines who has the right to initiate an action and who has a responsibility to answer in court.
Without commenting on the Scott case, Presiding Justice Arthur G. Scotland, told the audience many appeals come to the court because a defendant alleges the police did not follow the rules. He said the court takes such matters very seriously.
“When law enforcement doesn’t follow the rules, it sets a terrible example,” Scotland said.
He said if law enforcement breaks the rules, it’s much like a football coach who is willing to do anything if it means his team can win.
He also asked the audience if they noticed anything different about this proceeding than what would be seen in a regular courtroom.
Several audience members responded there was no jury box and no witness stand.
Scotland explained the appellate court doesn’t need a jury box because the decisions are made by three of the court’s 11 justices.
He also explained how the court doesn’t need a witness stand because it doesn’t accept any new testimony or evidence. Instead the court considers the evidence that is already part of the record.
Attorneys argue their cases before the court, but as many as 50 percent of the court’s cases are decided without oral arguments. Often lawyers believe the issues are presented well enough in the court record. Appearing before the appeals court can also be expensive for the parties involved because the attorneys have to review the case and prepare for another court appearance.
Scotland also told the audience his role as the presiding justice just means he handles the court’s administrative duties. When the court hears a case, he is equal to all the other justices.
Some cases may take months or even years to work their way through the appellate process, but most are decided quickly, within a month.
The attorneys said they can sometimes tell what aspects of the case the court is interested in by the questions the justices ask.
But the justices said they ask questions for any number of reasons. Sometimes it might be to get educated on the particular legal issues a case presents, but sometimes the justices could just be playing the devil’s advocate. Other times they might throw out a contrary position just to see how the attorneys will react.
Sometimes the justices will work as many as 500 cases per year.
Some of those cases move quickly through the system, especially those involving juveniles, the elderly or trial cases where wrongful detention is alleged.
While oral arguments normally take about 15 minutes per side, Scotland said the court will take as long as necessary to understand the issues in the case.
“Our objective is to get it right,” Scotland said.
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