Wow. This speedy-trial opinion out of the Fourth District yesterday really made me determined to avoid living with any roommates in San Diego County, just on the off chance they might shoot me. It makes it look like prosecutors down there don’t break much of a sweat over that kind of thing.
Check out this timeline of shots fired, names changed, time served and cases dismissed:
1981: Gregory Mirenda allegedly shoots and injures his roommate during a fight. About a month later, the DA gets a warrant for his arrest, but can’t find him.
1982: Mirenda’s arrested on the warrant, but in Pennsylvania. He agrees to return to California to face the charges, but the DA decides not to extradite him because it can’t find the victim. Mirenda’s released, and thinks the charges have been dismissed. But really, the warrant has just been changed to “California only.”
1999: The San Diego County marshal’s office — not the DA’s office — attempts to locate Mirenda but can’t find him. Granted, Mirenda had legally changed his name several years before to something else. But he still has the same Social Security number, and he’s locked in an Arizona prison serving a long sentence for an unrelated case.
2007: Out of prison, Mirenda tries to apply for Social Security disability benefits in Arizona and is told he needs to clear a California arrest warrant. He calls the San Diego public defender to look into it, and they call the DA’s office — which informs them of the outstanding warrant, then locates the 1981 victim and decides to go ahead with the prosecution.
That series of phone calls might have been Mirenda’s bad luck. But the 25-year break in the case wound up playing in his favor; the trial court and ultimately the Fourth District threw out the case. To summarize, from the latter’s opinion (.pdf):
“Although we appreciate that prosecutors are under no obligation to proceed with a case before they are satisfied that guilt can be proved beyond a reasonable doubt or before all the resources are reasonably available … The lack of any justification for the delay in this case after 1982 tips the balance.”
Incidentally: that’s written by Justice Richard Huffman, a former San Diego prosecutor.
— Pam Smith