Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Wednesday, January 24, 2007


Page 1


Robbery of Keys From Shop Worker Not Carjacking—Court


By TINA BAY, Staff Writer


A man who forced a store worker at gunpoint to give him the keys to a truck belonging to her employer was not guilty of carjacking, the Court of Appeal for this district ruled yesterday.

Div. Two reversed the carjacking conviction of Christopher Coleman, identified as the person who, on Dec. 10, 2004, walked into a Palmdale glass shop and demanded that office manager Rosalinda Ortega turn over the keys to a truck parked in front of the store.

The truck, a Chevrolet Silverado, was shop owner Oscar Aguayo’s personal vehicle, which he drove to work and left parked outside the store while using another truck with a glass rack for business purposes.

After Coleman took the keys from Ortega, he told her to go to the back of the store, then exited the shop and drove off in the Silverado.

In April 2005, Ortega saw him at a gas station and immediately called police. After his arrest, Ortega identified him as the perpetrator.

At trial, Coleman gave an alibi defense and attempted to undermine the accuracy of Ortega’s identification with the testimony of an expert, who maintained among other things that people are not good at identifying faces of people of a different race.

A jury found Coleman guilty of both carjacking and robbery.

While the justices upheld Coleman’s robbery conviction, they held his carjacking conviction could not stand because the Ortega did not fall within the category of victims the carjacking statute was designed to protect.

The statute, Penal Code Sec. 215(a), defines carjacking as the “taking of a motor vehicle in the possession of another, from his or her person or immediate presence or from the person or immediate presence of a passenger of the motor vehicle, against his or her will and with the intent to either permanently or temporarily deprive the person in the motor vehicle of his or her possession, accomplished by means of force or fear.”

Justice Kathryn Doi Todd, writing for the court, explained that Sec. 215 was crafted to address the problems and risks arising from the theft of a vehicle directly from its occupants. Ortega was merely a store employee in the general vicinity of the store owner’s car keys, she said.

 “[W]e cannot conclude that a carjacking has been committed here, where Ortega was not within any physical proximity to the Silverado, the keys she relinquished were not her own, and there was no evidence that she had ever been or would be a driver of or passenger in the Silverado,” the justice wrote.

Presiding Justice Roger W. Boren and Justice Judith Ashmann-Gerst concurred in the opinion.

Attorneys on appeal were Jonathan B. Steiner and Ronnie Duberstein of the California Appellate Project for the defendant and Deputy Attorneys General Robert F. Katz and Michael J. Wise for the prosecution.

The case is People v. Coleman, 07 S.O.S. 361.


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