Jim Porter: Our legal system — has it gone awry? (opinion)
The case of The People v. Dywon Levell Byrd illustrates that our legal system has run amok and needs fixing — seems to me.
Shoot and Flee Police
Our defendant, Dywon Levell Byrd, shot and killed someone at a residence in Sacramento, then ultimately did a “burn out” and accelerated at a high rate of speed from officers. The officers activated the overhead red and blue lights and gave chase.
The escaping vehicle stopped and the driver fled on foot leaving a crack pipe behind. Byrd, was captured and found by a jury to be guilty of first degree murder and driving in wanton disregard for the safety of persons while fleeing from a pursuing police officer.
Byrd was sentenced to 25-years-to-life for first degree murder plus a consecutive 25- years-to-life on an enhanced firearm charge, plus a consecutive 2-year sentence for driving in wanton disregard for the safety of persons while fleeing from a pursuing police officer.
Here is what bugs me about this case. Byrd with his free lawyer appealed the third element — fleeing from pursuing officers, who by the way were in a black and white police car with overhead flashing lights. He was already put away forever with convictions for first degree murder with firearm enhancement. So why is the system wasting resources letting Byrd appeal the lesser charge?
I guess it’s the American Way, but something seems wrong here.
In the end, Byrd got off from the charge of fleeing from a police officer (more Porter angst, see below); otherwise the life in prison sentences were all upheld. So what’s the point?
Here is the second reason this case bothers me. Defendant/murderer Byrd appealed claiming he did not technically violate Vehicle Code section 2800.2 “fleeing or attempting to elude a pursuing peace officer.”
That law had the right intent, but was poorly drafted. For a violation of section 2800.2, the prosecution needs to prove: (a) the peace officer’s vehicle has at least one lighted red lamp, (b) the peace officer’s motor vehicle is sounding a siren, (c) the peace officer’s motor vehicle is distinctly marked, and get this, (d) “that peace officer is wearing a distinctive uniform.”
In other words, the law requires four distinct elements, including what I’ll call the stupid element — that the peace officer in the chasing black and white with lights on and siren blaring — is wearing a “distinctive uniform.” Tell me how that matters.
As it turns out, no evidence was put in during trial that the pursing peace officer was in uniform. He was, but no matter, no evidence was presented to the jury.
So murderer Byrd was acquitted of the charge of trying to elude a pursing police officer because it was not proven the officer was in uniform.
No matter, Byrd will be in prison for life, but I predict the Legislature will eliminate element 4 to section 2800.2.
Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee, Tahoe City and Reno. Jim’s practice areas include: development, construction, business, HOAs, contracts, personal injury, accidents, mediation and other transactional matters. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or http://www.portersimon.com.