Jim Porter: Can a quadriplegic be a threat to a society? | SierraSun.com

Jim Porter: Can a quadriplegic be a threat to a society?

Martinez v. Board of Parole Hearings is a fascinating case recently decided in April in a split decision by the Court of Appeals in Sacramento.

Violent crime

In March 1998, Steven Martinez drove his car into two young women, pinning one beneath the vehicle. He grabbed the incapacitated woman by the throat and punched her in the face, then drove her to a secluded location. You donand#8217;t want to hear the rest. Martinez was sentenced to 157 years to life. He deserved more.

In February 2001, while serving his sentence at Centinela State Prison, Martinez was attacked by two inmates and stabbed in the neck causing instant complete quadriplegia. He has no motor power whatsoever in his arms or legs and is only able to move his head to a very minimal degree. He has no control over his bowel or bladder movements and requires 24-hour-a-day complete care for the rest of his life.

Threatening behavior

Martinezand#8217;s behavior following his incapacitation was inappropriate and disrespectful. He called his nurses everything you could imagine, including and#8220;incompetentand#8221; and and#8220;stupid,and#8221; adding and#8220;youand#8217;re lucky I canand#8217;t walkand#8230; Iand#8217;d kick your ass. I donand#8217;t have to worry though, someone will get you.and#8221;

He called nurses the and#8220;N wordand#8221; and threatened to urinate on them. My abbreviated descriptions do not do his vile behavior justice.

Let me out

In February 2008, Martinezand#8217;s attorney sent a letter to the warden asking him to consider Martinez for recall of his sentence and#8212; based upon 1997 legislation that authorized the release from prison of inmates who are terminally ill, or permanently medically incapacitated and do not impose a threat to public safety. The purpose of the law was not just compassion, it was to save the state money from medical expenses incurred by chronically ill, terminal or incapacitated prisoners.

As abhorrent as Martinezand#8217;s crime was, if he was released could he be a threat to public safety? That was the issue in this case.

The warden and chief medical officer recommended a recall of Martinezand#8217;s sentence. The head of Californiaand#8217;s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation disagreed, favoring continued incarceration, as did the Board of Parole Hearings. The trial judge agreed with the warden and chief medical officer. Ultimately the case made it to the three-panel Court of Appeals.

Stay in prison

The majority noted the highly deferential burden of proof favoring the Board of Parole Hearingand#8217;s decision against Martinez, adding that itand#8217;s not up to the court to inject its opinion.

The justices noted Martinezand#8217;s extensive arrest history, which alone suggests he should remain in prison forever.

Citing newspaper articles about how quadriplegics had committed crimes, in one case pulling a trigger with a string in his mouth, the Court of Appeals upheld the Board of Parole Hearingand#8217;s decision, finding that Martinez and#8220;could enlist the assistance of someone to harm those who irritate him,and#8221; so it could not be said with absolute certainty that Martinez was a not a threat to society. Martinez stays in prison.

Dissenting opinion

Dissenting Justice Sims, while respectful to the majority opinion, used what I would describe as and#8220;gallows humorand#8221; to make his point: and#8220;Thus I am willing to take the risk that petitioner Martinez will fire a pistol with a string in his mouth. Indeed, given the hundred of thousands of dollars that Martinez is costing the state each year, it is a risk that we all must take.and#8221;

To counter the majorityand#8217;s news articles about quadriplegics committing crimes, the dissenting Justice noted that with the help of a good Internet search engine, you can prove anything, including that pigs can fly, citing several newspaper articles that pigs really can fly.

The dissent found evidence that Martinez could harm someone in society and#8220;utter speculation.and#8221; In response to Martinezand#8217;s statement that and#8220;Iand#8217;d kick your ass,and#8221; Justice Sims wrote, and#8220;Martinez could not kick at all, let alone kick someoneand#8217;s ass.and#8221; The dissent noted that the state spent more than $1.25 million on Martinez in two years, and that if released Martinezand#8217;s parents would assume responsibility for his medical care.

I told you this was an interesting case. How would you have decided?

Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon, with offices in Truckee, South Lake Tahoe, Incline Village and Reno and a licensed California Real Estate Broker. He was the Governor’s appointee to the Bipartisan McPherson Commission on political ethics and the California Fair Political Practices Commission. He may be reached at porter@portersimon.com or at the firmand#8217;s web site http://www.portersimon.com.

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