Appeals Court: Corpus Delicti Rule Still Applies at Preliminary Hearings
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The corpus delicti rule still applies to preliminary hearings, the Court of Appeal for this district ruled yesterday.
The traditional rule that the fact that a crime has been committed must be proven by evidence other than the defendant’s out-of-court statement was not abrogated by the Victim’s Bill of Rights enacted in 1982, Presiding Justice Candace Cooper wrote for Div. Eight.
The ruling was a partial victory for a San Marino physician charged with 13 counts of money laundering and five counts of tax evasion, as the appellate panel threw out the money laundering charges. As to the tax evasion counts, Cooper wrote, the trial court’s corpus delicti ruling was harmless error because there was sufficient evidence of the commission of those crimes, apart from the defendant’s statements.
Prosecutors presented evidence that the defendant, Suad Salim Rayyis, filed no state income tax returns from 1985 until after the charges were filed in 2004, despite earning several million dollars in income, and that when he did file returns, he understated his income for the years 1998 through 2002.
The evidence also showed that during that time, Rayyis transferred considerable sums to his children, now in their 30s, who used the money to purchase cars and remodel the family home, among other things, and that neither Rayyis’ children nor his wife earned significant amounts of money during that time.
A district attorney’s investigator testified that Rayyis told him he had been paid to treat participants in staged auto accidents between 1995 and 2003; those patients had been brought to him by “hunters” who set up the phony accidents, Rayyis alleged told the investigator.
The preliminary hearing judge held Rayyis to answer on all counts, and Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Terry A. Green denied his motion to set aside the information under Penal Code Sec. 995.
The defense argued that the finding of probable cause was erroneous because it relied on the defense investigator’s testimony regarding his conversation with the accused. Green, however, found that even if the corpus delicti had not been established, there was sufficient evidence to bind Rayyis over for trial because the rule no longer applies to preliminary hearings.
Green based his ruling on People v. Alvarez (2002) 27 Cal.4th 1161, which held that under Proposition 8’s Truth-in-Evidence provision, a defendant’s out-of-court statement is admissible against that defendant at a preliminary hearing regardless of whether the truth of the statement is independently corroborated.
The Truth-in-Evidence clause provides that all relevant evidence is admissible unless exclusion is required by the U.S. Constitution, by pre-1982 statutes regarding hearsay or privilege, or by post-1982 statutes enacted by vote of the people or by a two-thirds majority vote of the Legislature, or unless the probative value of the evidence is outweighed by its prejudicial impact or its tendency to mislead or confuse the trier of fact.
Green was in error, Cooper explained, because Proposition 8 went only to the issue of admissibility and did not completely abrogate the corpus delicti rule with respect to preliminary hearings.
“In concluding that Alvarez abrogated the corpus delicti rule in the context of preliminary hearings, the trial court in this case focused on the fact that the Alvarez opinion contains several references to the corpus delicti rule as barring a ëconviction’ based solely on a defendant’s extrajudicial statements....However, we do not believe this occasional reference to a conviction was meant to signal that the court intended to hold the corpus delicti rule no longer applies to preliminary hearings. Indeed, the propriety of applying the corpus delicti rule to preliminary hearings was not at issue in the case.”
Cooper went on to say that circumstantial evidence of Rayyis’ efforts to create the impression that he lacked substantial assets corroborated his admissions that he received unreported or underreported income for the treatment of victims of staged accidents. But the transfers to his children, the presiding justice said, did not constitute corroborating evidence of money laundering because there was no independent evidence that the money was derived from criminal activity.
The case is Rayyis v. Superior Court (People), B181214.
Copyright 2005, Metropolitan News Company