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June 4, 2022

Notable (Pyrrhic?) victory under California Racial Justice Act for double murderer getting LWOP

A couple of years ago in this post, I noted the enactment of the California Racial Justice Act and suggested it could have a significant impact depending upon how it was applied by judges in the state.  I have not followed closely subsequent litigation over the CRJA's application, but this week I did see this local report on a notable ruling under the headline "O.C. district attorney violated Racial Justice Act in double murder case, judge finds."  Here are the basics:

An Orange County Superior Court judge ruled Friday that Dist. Atty. Todd Spitzer violated the Racial Justice Act when he made comments about the dating habits of Black men while discussing a double murder case.

However, Judge Gregg Prickett stopped short of imposing any sanctions that would have reduced Jamon Buggs’ sentence.  The appropriate remedy in the case — seeking life without the possibility of parole rather than the death penalty — had already been applied by the district attorney’s office, Prickett said.

The Racial Justice Act, passed in 2020, prohibits prosecutors from seeking or obtaining a criminal conviction or imposing a sentence based on race, ethnicity or national origin.  “The defendant has received what the statute would say was the appropriate remedy for the violation,” Prickett said.  “The court does not find that it would be in the interest of justice to dismiss enhancements, special circumstances or reduce charges.”

Buggs, who was convicted of murder in May for fatally shooting a man and woman inside a Newport Beach condominium, allegedly in a jealous rage, was sentenced by Prickett to life in prison without the possibility of parole....  During a roughly two-week trial, Buggs’ attorneys argued that he killed Darren Partch, 38, and Wendi Miller, 48, in the heat of passion, fueled by what they described as a toxic relationship between Buggs and his ex-girlfriend, Samantha Brewers....

The case had been mired in controversy since Spitzer made racist comments about the dating habits of Black men during an October staff meeting on whether to pursue the death penalty against Buggs.  At the meeting, Spitzer told prosecutors that he knows “many Black people who get themselves out of their bad circumstances and bad situations by only dating white women,” according to a memo written by then-prosecutor Ebrahim Baytieh, who attended the meeting.

Spitzer has said allegations of “any racial animus or bias against the defendant are baseless and quite frankly offensive.”  Buggs is Black, while Buggs’ ex-girlfriend and Miller are both white. Spitzer has alleged that Baytieh wrote the memo in retaliation because Spitzer had initiated an investigation of him related to another murder case....

Prosecutors argued in court Friday that the defense failed to provide a preponderance of evidence that Spitzer’s comments negatively affected Buggs’ case. Denise Gragg, one of Buggs’ defense attorneys, said Spitzer’s comments were an example of “the oldest bias that exists” regarding Black men and white women. She added that Spitzer has not acknowledged his comments as biased.

“If you can’t even recognize that is a bias, how can you assure yourself or us that there were not decisions made in this case or not made in this case that were influenced by that bias?” she asked. “Justice is not just done from the jury box,” she added. “It’s done from the back halls; it’s done in chambers…. That is the place where this case was damaged.”

A quick Google search did not turn up any reports or data on how the California Racial Justice Act has been applied or adjudicated so far.  I continue to suspect the CJRA could have a variety of notable impacts (especially if it were to ever be made retroactive). But the accurate statement that many criminal justice decisions get made in "back halls," and the broader challenge of identifying and crafting remedies for problematic discretionary decision-making, necessarily means the impact of the CJRA may prove hard to fully gauge or assess.

June 4, 2022 at 12:46 PM | Permalink


It's really not up to prosecutors (or any other lawyers) to be commenting in court on the "dating practices" of blacks or whites or anyone else. What could be less relevant or more diversionary? Just stick to the facts of the case, guys.

P.S. I wish the unappetizing character of remarks like this had been borne in mind two or three weeks ago when liberals were tearing into the putative ethical lapses of Justice Thomas in view of the conservative advocacy of his wife (who, they always managed to sneak in, is white).

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 4, 2022 4:59:34 PM

Mr. Otis,

Well, there you go again (said in my best 'Ronald Reagan voice'). In regards to your final comment that liberals always manage to "sneak in a comment that Mrs. Thomas is white", one can only conclude that this yet another of your attempts to "troll" those NOT on the right. These oft-repeated attempts to troll liberals and independents, are in my opinion considerably beneath a man of your stature, intelligence and reputation.

However...since I'm a bit bored and have a few spare moments, I'll take the time to bite on your fishing lure, take a deep dive and address why I believe you to be wrong yet again.

For those who have paid attention, it is glaringly obvious that (almost) every comment by liberals and independents (in respect to the Thomas marriage) were to highlight the historically racist American laws restricting interracial marriages, dating back to the 1600's. As you well know, laws prohibiting "miscegenation" were common in many states until 1967, when the Supreme Court ruled on the issue in Loving v. Virginia, concluding that Virginia’s miscegenation laws were unconstitutional. So the comments attributed to liberals and independents were NOT AT ALL critical of an interracial marriage (as you have overtly inferred), but rather were intended to highlight the infuriating hypocrisy of those on the right who would now seek to return to the States the power and authority to re-impose miscegenation laws throughout our country (please see the rationale expressed by your beloved Justice Alito in the leaked 'Roe v Wade' opinion...which some have speculated may have been leaked by Mrs. Thomas herself). Best regards!!

Posted by: SG | Jun 4, 2022 8:49:12 PM

SG --

-- You are of course free to characterize as "trolling" my disagreement with the liberals who dominate these precincts, but it's still just disagreeing, and I'm still going to do it, since disagreement is the beginning of debate.

-- The race of Justice Thomas's wife is nobody's business, and the reason it gets mentioned is that those who insist on bringing it up think it's somehow a negative. I don't, and I think poking at it is unworthy if not disgusting.

-- The main point of the Alito draft opinion is that things not mentioned in the Constitution are left to the electoral process. Abortion is not mentioned. Equal protection assuredly is, and therefore miscegenation laws have nothing to fear should the draft opinion become the opinion of the Court. That line is just a less convincing version of The Big Parade of Horribles.

-- Speaking of trolling, how would you characterize this factually unmoored line: "...the leaked 'Roe v Wade' opinion...which some have speculated may have been leaked by Mrs. Thomas herself."

Yes, and "some have speculated" that the moon landing was staged in a Burbank studio. The phrase is nothing more than the calling card of innuendo.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 4, 2022 11:10:02 PM

There have been a few other more interesting RJA developments. For example, last week in Young v. Superior Court the First District Court of appeal ruled in favor of the defendant, reversing and remanding a trial court order denying discovery. This is the first appellate RJA decision. It is still very early days, and with COVID litigation is moving very slowly.

Posted by: AS | Jun 6, 2022 1:26:40 PM

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