Legal Research

California Funeral Procession Law

I was stopped at an traffic light this afternoon when two police officers on motorcycles entered the intersection from my left with their lights flashing. They stopped briefly and then proceeded through the intersection. At first, I thought that some dignitaries may be paying a visit to Silicon Valley and these officers were serving as a police escort. However, there was no train of black Suburbans following behind.

Instead, I witnessed a stream of “regular” cars, and finally noticed a funeral placard affixed to the windshield of one of the vehicle. While the funeral procession was driving through the intersection with the green light, there was no problem. However, once the light changed, the procession continued through the intersection at the same speed, nearly causing an accident.

The traffic laws regarding funeral processions in California is governed by California Vehicle Code Section 2817.

Any person who disregards any traffic signal or direction given by a peace officer authorized pursuant to subdivision (d) of Section 70 of the Penal Code to escort funeral processions, if the peace officer is in a peace officer’s uniform, and is in the process of escorting a funeral procession, shall be guilty of an infraction and subject to the penalties provided in subdivision (a) of Section 42001.

California doesn’t explicitly grant funeral processions the right-of-way, but the California DMV website states:

Do not block or hinder a funeral procession. Vehicles taking part in a funeral procession have the right-of-way, and if you interfere, obstruct, or interrupt the funeral procession, you are subject to a citation (CVC ยง2817). A funeral procession is led by a traffic officer. All vehicles taking part in the procession have windshield markers to identify them and have their headlights on.

For the procession I witnessed, the practical issues are (1) the funeral placard is not that easy to see at first, (2) headlights are not as meaningful a distinction in the era of daytime running lights, and (3) after the police officers had departed from the intersection, drivers arriving later to the intersection may not have been aware that a funeral procession was passing through.

So, when the traffic light turned red for the funeral procession, a couple cars darted into the intersection from their left. Fortunately, they stopped before there was a collision.

criminal law

California Penal Code Section 490.6



During a recent trip to Knott’s Berry Farm, I saw the above sign citing California Penal Code Section 490.6. I was intrigued and had to look up the statute. Was the law specific to amusement parks? Did it regulate line jumping or laser pens? I had to find out.

Interestingly, California Penal Code Section 490.6 is in Part 1, Of Crimes and Punishments, Title 13, Of Crimes Against Property, Chapter 5, Larceny, of the California Penal Code. Now, what does line jumping and saving space in line for others have to do with larceny? Not much.

As it turns out, Penal Code Section 490.6 deals with the right of an amusement park to detain a guest for violating a lawful amusement park rule. Paragraph (a) requires an amusement park employee to have probable cause to believe that a lawful amusement park rule was violated in order to detain a person for a reasonable time.

A person employed by an amusement park may detain a person for a reasonable time for the purpose of conducting an investigation in a reasonable manner whenever the person employed by the amusement park has probable cause to believe the person to be detained is violating lawful amusement park rules.

Paragraph (b) permits an amusement park employee to request that a guest comply with lawful amusement park rules or leave the premises. Refusal to leave the premises or comply with lawful amusement park rules is a misdemeanor under California Penal Code Section 602.1 for intentionally interfering with a lawful business.

If any person admitted to an amusement park refuses or fails to follow lawful amusement park rules, after being so informed, then an amusement park employee may request that the person either comply or leave the premises. If the person refuses to leave the premises or comply with lawful park rules, then the person shall be deemed to be intentionally interfering with and obstructing those attempting to carry on a lawful business within the meaning of Section 602.1.

Finally, paragraph (c) provides a defense to the amusement park in the event it is sued in civil court for false imprisonment. So long as the amusement park employee had probable cause to believe that a guest was not following lawful amusement park rules and the employee was acting reasonably under the circumstances, the amusement park may claim this as a defense.

In any civil action brought by any person resulting from a detention or an arrest by a person employed by an amusement park, it shall be a defense to that action that the amusement park employee detaining or arresting the person had probable cause to believe that the person was not following lawful amusement park rules and that the amusement park employee acted reasonably under all the circumstances.

consumer law

Political Memorabilia Law

California has a law that targets political memorabilia. Found at Civil Code Section 1739, this law regulates the sale, advertisement for sale, and offer for sale of “any political item which is purported to be an original political item but which is not in fact an original political item.”

California Civil Code Section 1739.1 defines a political item as “any button, ribbon, poster, sticker, literature or advertising” for a candidate or ballot proposition in an electoral campaign. For an item to be original, it must have been “produced during any electoral campaign for use in support or in opposition to any candidate or ballot proposition before the voters in that campaign.”

So, if you are selling Barry Goldwater memorabilia, it should be labeled as a copy or reproduction, if the item is not original.

If you purchased a reproduction that was no so labeled, you can get a refund with interest. However, if the seller knew the item was a reproduction but sold it as an original, the buyer is eligible for damages equal to three times the price paid and interest.

The statute of limitation is one year from the date of discovery, but no more than three years after the sale.

I understand why the sale of reproductions as authentic items is wrong. But, why does California need a statute targeted towards political memorabilia? Don’t general laws addressing fraud or unfair business practices take care of this problem?

consumer law

California Unit Pricing Law

When comparison shopping at the supermarket, trying to find the best bargain could be challenging because manufacturers produce canned, bottled and packaged goods in odd quantities. If we are comparing between a 5 lb. and 10 lb. bag of flour, the task is relatively easy. Does the 10 lb. bag cost twice as much as the 5 lb. bag?

However, when looking at a 46 ounce and 52 ounce bottle, pulling out the calculator (or smartphone) may be needed. Thankfully, many stores provide unit pricing information on the product tag, which will show the per ounce price of each bottle.

As it turns out, in California, the state unit pricing law is found in the Business and Professions Code; however, calling it a law may be overstating it a bit considering its voluntary nature.

It is the intent of the Legislature to encourage the unit pricing of all canned, bottled, and packaged foods, packaged produce, and bakery goods; paper, plastic, wood, and metal products packaged
in counts greater than 10; rolled paper, plastic, and metal products; canned, bottled, and packaged domestic, laundry and household cleansing, finishing, waxing, and polishing products; drug and first
aid products canned, packaged, or bottled in counts greater than 10; and frozen fruits and vegetables, offered by merchants in their places of business for sale at retail to the public.

I find that having the information is helpful not just from the point of being an educated consumer, but that it helps lower the obstacles to making a purchasing decision. The store would probably prefer that a consumer look at the unit pricing information and buy instead of standing in the aisle and calculating math problems.

criminal law

Convicted Murderer Sues the State For Taking Too Long to Execute Him

A recent decision from the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California found California’s implementation of the death penalty to be unconstitutional. In that case, Judge Cormac J. Carney vacated the death sentence of Ernest Dewayne Jones, who was convicted of first degree murder and rape.

Were this a routine death penalty appeal where the death sentence was vacated because of mental retardation, age of minority, or actual innocence, it probably would not have merited additional attention. What makes Jones v. Wong a remarkable Man Bites Dog case is the counter-intuitive reasoning offered by the judge: the death penalty process in California is unconstitutional because the state is taking too long to execute prisoners on death row.

Specifically, the judge found that the administration of the death penalty in California violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. The judge asserted that the death penalty, when administered, would be arbitrary because only a select few who have been sentenced to death will actually be executed due to the long appeal process. Additionally, the death penalty serves no penological purpose because the lengthy delay in imposing the sentence limits the retributive and deterrence effects.

The judge further accused California of running a dysfunctional death penalty system on account of the “inordinate and unpredictable period of delay” preceding executions with the time between sentencing and execution taking 25 years, which is twice the national average. The judge stated that the current death penalty process which leads to “life in prison, with a remote possibility of death” is not one that “a rational jury or legislature could ever impose,” and attributed the delay to inadequate funding and the automatic appeal of death sentences to the state supreme court.

While some death penalty opponents cheered this decision, their initial enthusiasm may be misplaced. This judge is not an opponent of the death penalty along the lines of Justice Blackmun who famously pledged to no longer tinker with the machinery of death. Instead, the judge appears to be forcing the California legislature to address the death penalty issue: either fix the system or surrender the pretense in its entirety.

Death penalty opponents are counting on the state to finally abandon the death penalty an unaffordable exercise of retribution. That is certainly one possibility. However, the legislature could also adopt the recommendations of the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice and reform the administration of the death penalty in California. If that happens, petitioner may rue the appeal that forced the state into action. Maybe a life in prison with a remote chance of execution beats a certain execution free of unconstitutional delays.

Legal Research

Arkansas Supreme Court Opinions

The Arkansas Judiciary website offers Arkansas Supreme Court Published Opinions. This collection includes unofficial copies of published opinions starting from the Spring Term of 1837. I am fascinated by court opinions, not so much from a legal perspective but a historical perspective.

In Daniel v. Guy, 19 Ark. 121 (1857), the plaintiffs sued the defendant for trespass for false imprisonment. At issue was whether the plaintiffs were free or the slaves of defendant William Daniel.

For context, the Arkansas Supreme Court decided Daniel v. Guy just four years before Confederate forces fired on Fort Sumter and sparked the American Civil War. So, this opinion pre-dates the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation.

The court proceeds to discuss the various legal presumptions in effect including the presumption of freedom for persons that appear to belong to the white race. Other important signals include whether the persons was previously held as a slave. In terms of expert witnesses, the court provided this summary:

Dr. Newton—Had read Physiology. There are five races—the negro is the lowest in intellect. Some physiologists are of the opinion that in the head of the mulatto, there is some negro hair, and some white hair, and that the negro hair never runs out. It would not run out before it passed the second generation. It may in the third generation have waves. The color, hair, feet, nose, and form of the skull and bones furnish means of distinguishing negro blood or descent. The hair never becomes straight until after the third descent from the negro, from neither the father or mother’s side. The flat nose also remains observable for several descents.

In 2171, I wonder what decisions by our present-day state and federal courts will appear as antiquated as this one.

Daniel v. Guy, 19 Ark. 121 (1857).

criminal law

California Penal Code Section 626.8

JLS is middle school in the Palo Alto Unified School District. The school is located adjacent to Mitchell Park. The JLS Athletic Fields is an open, unfenced field located between the school fence and the park, with a pathway marking the border.

I spotted the JLS Athletic Fields sign, which cited California Penal Code Section 626.8. I wasn’t sure whether the penal code section was in reference to the use of the field during school hours, or the requirement to register at the school office.


The sign states:

Welcome to the JLS Athletic Fields

JLS has exclusive use of these fields during school hours, 7:30 AM – 3:30 PM. During these hours all visitors must register at the school office. Any person who violates these rules will be cited under C.P.C. Section 626.8

The penal code section prohibits persons from coming upon school ground (which should cover the athletic fields) without lawful business and “whose presence or acts interfere with the peaceful conduct of activities of the school or disrupt the school or its pupils or school activities.”

So, playing soccer on the athletic fields during school hours can get you cited for a misdemeanor, which is punishable by a fine up to $500 and imprisonment in county jail up to six months, or both. However, that’s only if you remain after being asked to leave by the principal, member of the security or a police officer. Sounds completely reasonable.

However, California Penal Code Section 626.8 does include an odd provision. Paragraph (a)(4), which was added by Assembly Bill 123, penalizes a person who “[w]illfully or knowingly creates a disruption with the intent to threaten the immediate physical safety of any pupil in preschool, kindergarten, or any of grades 1 to 8, inclusive, arriving at, attending, or leaving from school.”

We’re not talking about someone who physically harms a pupil, but a person who creates a disruption with the intent to threaten the immediate physical safety of a pupil. Furthermore, this prohibition only protects pupils in preschool and K-8.

The Mercury News reported that this provision was added because an anti-abotion group was displaying large photographs of aborted fetuses outside a California middle school. Yes, such behavior may cause a disruption, but how exactly does it threaten the immediate physical safety of a pupil? Doesn’t seem to fit at all.


President’s Day


While the third Monday in February is popularly referred to as Presidents’ Day, 5 U.S. Code § 6103 officially recognizes this date as Washington’s Birthday.

Lincoln’s Birthday is recognized on a state-by-state basis. And, you can pretty much guess which states do not observe a day memorializing the 16th president.

South Carolina observes George Washington’s Birthday / President’s Day.

Mississippi observes George Washington’s Birthday.

Florida does not any state holidays in February.

Alabama observes George Washington and Thomas Jeffersons’ Birthday.

Georgia observes George Washington’s Birthday.

Louisiana does not observe any state holidays in February.

Texas observes Presidents’ Day in honor of Washington’s Birthday.


An Interesting Use of the Word Award

In Respublica versus Chapman, 1 Dall. 53 (1781), the Chief Justice asked the defendant “why execution should not be awarded against him.” Never occurred to me that an award could be a bad thing.

Aside from the curious use of the word “award,” I really found this case to be quite interesting. Chapman was tried for high treason during the American Revolutionary War in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The case was heard by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania during the April Term of 1781. In terms of historical perspective, Cornwallis would not surrender at Yorktown for another six months.

In Chapman’s defense, he claimed that he was a subject of the King of Great Britain, and therefore owed no allegiance to the Commonwealth. Hence, he could not have committed high treason. The court actually engaged in quite an extensive inquiry into whether the defendant owed a duty of allegiance to the Commonwealth. I really respect a court that can be principled in a case involving treason during a war, without resorting to victor’s justice.

criminal law

Respublica versus Abraham Carlisle

Respublica v. Carlisle, 1 U.S. 35 (1778) was a high treason case decided in the midst of the American Revolution by the Court of Oyer and Terminer at Philadelphia.

The indictment accused the defendant of “not having the fear of God before his eyes, but being moved and seduced by the instigation of the Devil… to subvert, and to raise again and restore the government and tyranny of the king of Great-Britain.”

Such colorful language. For being a loyalist, “the Defendant, a short time afterwards, was accordingly executed.”