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Basis of Opinions for Recent Major Court Decisions

December 20, 1987

Following are excerpts from opinions in some major decisions issued by the state Supreme Court in recent months.

DEATH PENALTY

"We supported (the 1983 ruling) with the observation that the adoption of a law permitting the imposition of the death penalty on an actual killer, who nevertheless did not intend to kill, would be a 'momentous step,' raising grave moral questions. . . . Putting aside, as we must, our own moral views on the propriety of the death penalty, we are no longer of the opinion that the adoption of such a law would represent a 'momentous step."'

--Justice Stanley Mosk, writing for the majority in People v. Anderson, in which the court, citing new U.S. Supreme Court decisions, overturned a 1983 ruling requiring that before returning a death sentence, a jury must find the defendant in a felony murder case intended to kill his victim.

"There is no good reason for this court to depart from (the 1983 decision). Periodically, when the political winds gust in a new direction, it becomes necessary to remind all concerned of the virtues of a steady course. . . . Sooner or later the present decision will result in an execution unjust to the defendant and unnecessary to protect any interest of the public."

--Justice Allen E. Broussard, dissenting in People v. Anderson.

TRUANCY

"Detention for the purpose of investigating whether a person is a truant is, as a practical matter, the only effective means of identifying and locating truants and hence substantially advances the state's compulsory education goals. On the balance, we find the degree of interference with personal liberty occasioned by a 'truancy detention' to be slight. . . . We are unwilling to conclude that the limited and brief intrusion required for such an investigative detention outweighs the legitimate governmental interest here involved."

--Chief Justice Malcolm M. Lucas, writing for the majority in People v. James Edward D., in which the court upheld the authority of police to stop and question young people they suspect may be absent from school without valid reason.

CAR INSURANCE

"There is no doubt that the victims of accidents caused by uninsured drivers suffer greatly, especially if these victims do not themselves have medical or uninsured motorist coverage. . . . We are not insensitive to the plaintiffs' position (and) a feeling of helplessness among those unable to afford or obtain private (auto) insurance. However, their case should be made to the Legislature, not this court. So long as the legislatively mandated system meets minimum procedural due process standards, as we found it does, we cannot look behind the enacted framework to replace the Legislature's social judgment with our own."

--Justice Edward A. Panelli, writing for the court in King vs. Meese, in which the court upheld the new state mandatory auto insurance law.

SOBRIETY CHECKPOINTS

"Deterring drunk driving and identifying and removing drunk drivers from the roadways undeniably serves a highly important governmental interest. . . . Stopping the carnage wrought on California highways by drunk drivers is a concern the importance of which is difficult to overestimate. While it may be less self evident, the record here also supports a reasonable inference sobriety checkpoints . . . do advance this important public goal."

--Justice Marcus M. Kaufman, writing for the majority in Ingersoll vs. Palmer, in which the court upheld the constitutionality of police roadblocks to catch drunk drivers.

MOBILE HOMES

"The Legislature could well have found that mobile home parks, often constructed as an alternative to more expensive traditional housing, should not be required to assume the cost of providing facilities and protection for children when most residents would make no use of such facilities. Also, many mobile homes are small and ill-suited to housing families, being more appropriate for couples or single persons. And the close proximity of many mobile homes to one another, as well as a general lack of soundproofing, means that the play of young children and the music of their teen-age siblings might inordinately disturb the tranquility of their neighbors."

--Justice Stanley Mosk, writing for the court in Schmidt vs. Superior Court of Santa Barbara, in which the court affirmed the legality of "adults-only" mobile home parks.

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