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Just how accurate is the law in "Trial"?


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On Monday evening TCM showed the 1955 movie Trial, perhaps best known today because Arthur Kennedy got a Supporting Actor nomination for his role.  About the movie itself, I'll say more about it with my weekly roundup.  I'll try to limit spoilers, but SPOILERS!  Basically the defendant is in a particularly nasty situation because he could face the death penalty.  The young man is found with a young (i.e. under 18) woman who has just died.  Basically the crime he faces is under two parts.  He is accused of statutory rape, which means that because the deceased was under 18 he is guilty of rape regardless of whether she consented or not.  And because any sexual activity is a felony he is guilty of murder because it is the felony that led to her death.

So basically we have to consider the two elements--statutory rape and felony murder.  Remember the movie takes place in 1955 in California so those rules govern.  About the statutory rape several questions arise.  (1) The defendant is also under 18.  California law does not apparently grant immunity for such a defendant.  Apparently an underage defendant's conduct would now be treated as a misdemeanor.  But would that rule have applied in 1955?  In some jurisdictions, a reasonable belief that the victim was 18 or over would be a valid defense.  Looking around the internet apparently California accepts such a defense, but they only did so from the mid-sixties onward.  (2) To be convicted of rape, the state must prove penetration.  Can they prove "less," such as any form of sexual assault?  As assault, remember, is unwanted touching.  (3) Another question arises.  Obviously unmarried 16 and 17 year old girls got pregnant in California in 1955, and it's unlikely that every father was charged with rape.  So how likely was such a prosecution in the first place?  Reading around, California made a determined effort to punish such people over the last twenty years.  But usually such offenders were clearly much older than the girls in question.  And also reading around before that many people considered the change trivial or minor.  (Jack Nicholson's character in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, which takes place in Oregon, is trying to get around such a charge.)  In Trial itself it is of vital importance that the defendant is Mexican and the deceased a white girl of respectable family who he knew before but not very well.

As for felony murder, later caselaw, i.e. several decades later, argues that a felonious act would lead to felony murder if the act is inherently dangerous.  (1) For example, accidentally firing a gun during a robbery would be considered felony murder.  In a case involving burglary, the thief left, dropped some material from his truck while driving away, and this caused a fatal accident.  A court ruled that since the burglary had been completed when he left the scene of the crime (he wasn't being pursued) his negligent behavior was not a part of felony murder.  The question that arises is just how dangerous and just how strong the connection is the felony to the loss of life in 1955 California?  (2) Another key plot point is that the deceased was suffering from rheumatic fever and this may have been enough to kill her on its own.  But apparently in this movie the state does not have to prove either violence or actual penetration.  Just suggesting illicit hanky panky is apparently enough?  Is that really the case?  (3) A third question is just how much discretion the prosecutor has in demanding the death penalty.  I would thought I'd seen enough movies from this time period that not every homicide is treated as first degree murder, nor that all first degree murders would demand the death penalty.  But I know some crimes have a mandatory death penalty.  Would this be one of them?

You will note in this summary, I haven't actually said whether the defendant was guilty or not.  That's not the question I'm curious about.  The question I'm interested in is how much discretion the prosecutor has, whether to charge the defendant at all, whether to charge the rape as a felony, whether to invoke felony murder, and whether he must demand the death penalty.

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Here ya go, skimpole:

818 743-9947

That's Marcia Clark's cellphone number. I'm sure SHE could probably answer these questions for ya here.

'Cause even though I was born and bred in The Golden State, I haven't got a freakin' clue about the history of California Criminal Law, and I'll bet you're gonna find it pretty darn hard to find ANYBODY around here who does either!!! ;)


(...sorry, couldn't resist...oh, and no, that's not really Marcia's cellphone number of course, I made it up...BUT according to her Wiki bio page, she's presently residing in Calabasas CA, and I DO at least know the area code there is 818) 

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"Natural" law, eh JOE?  ;)  

I've not seen the movie in question, and sounds interesting enough.  Usually writers and producers of these kind of movies often seek technical advice from specialists in those prospective fields.  Like lawyers, judges and the like. I'm sure too, for the story's sake, they get advice from these "experts" as to how much "license" they can get by with.  

Plus, RAFAEL CAMPOS is usually a GREAT addition in any movie!


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5 minutes ago, NipkowDisc said:

I will never forgive Rafael Campos for sticking a shiv into Jeff Corey in Lady in a Cage.

poor ann sothern was beside herself.

at least olivia got even with james caan.



How can you hate on Rafael with a mother like this:

Image result for katy jurado

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