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People v. Stringham

California Court for Appeal for the First District
206 Cal. App. 3d 184 (1988)


Facts

Guy Stringham (defendant), along with others, beat and abducted Paul Snipes for allegedly stealing from them. Stringham participated in the beating and handed a gun to a friend, who killed Snipes. Stringham was originally charged with murder by torture, a capital offense. However, the prosecutor agreed to accept a guilty plea to voluntary manslaughter, because he believed he would not be able to get testimony from two important witnesses, including a detective who elicited Stringham’s confession, but who subsequently had a heart attack. Snipes’s family strongly rejected the plea bargain and accused the prosecutor and judge of bias. A new judge, Judge Buffington, was brought in from another county to handle the case. A hearing was conducted on January 23, 1987, during which Snipes’s father was permitted to read a statement in which he ardently opposed the plea bargain and said that Stringham was a murderer and should be prosecuted as one. Judge Buffington told Snipes he could write a letter to the court including any further comments that would also be considered in the sentencing decision. The matter was rescheduled for January 30, when both parties requested acceptance of the plea bargain. The prosecutor outlined various obstacles to a murder conviction; however, Judge Buffington decided that the case should still be tried. Stringham was convicted of second-degree murder and kidnapping, and given consecutive sentences. Stringham appealed, arguing that it was inappropriate for Snipes’s father to make a statement at the hearing, because it was not yet a technical sentencing hearing at which next of kin have a right to be heard. Stringham also challenged the content of Snipes’s father's comments, complaining that they were inflammatory and distracting in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Poche, J.)

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