Stare Decisis

The “underground body of law” – the influence of unpublished opinions

There’s nothing quite so frustrating as finding the perfect case — factually and legally on “all fours” with yours, with a “slam dunk” holding — that has been depublished (or was never published). California Rules of Court, rule 8.1115(a), prohibits citation to opinions “not certified for publication or ordered published.” That “perfect” case might as well not exist if it’s not published.

Well, not quite. Such cases can be well worth finding because, in the absence of published cases, they can still be quite helpful in formulating argument and working logically through the issues. It is such influence in the absence of publication that leads presiding justice Kline, dissenting in People v. Moret, case no. A123591 (1st Dist. Dec. 28, 2009. modified on denial of rehearing Jan. 22, 2010), to cite the existence of an “underground body of law” as his principle justification for publication of Moret:

[Health and Safety Code section 11362.795] has, however, been interpreted and applied in a significant number of unpublished and therefore noncitable opinions. (Cal. Rules of Court, rule 8.1115.) Because published opinions construing the statute do not exist, and the unpublished opinions that do are easily obtained by interested lawyers and judges, the unpublished opinions may influence the strategy of counsel and the decisions of trial and perhaps even appellate courts. The existence for a long period of time of an underground body of law on the meaning of [Health and Safety Code] section 11362.795 (to which some members of this panel have admittedly contributed) is injudicious.

The cited code section concerns use of medical marijuana. I can’t be the only one who finds it a little ironic that the body of case law on it would be underground.