Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Panel Affirms Ex-Lawyer’s Life Sentence for Torturing Wife
By SHERRI M. OKAMOTO, Staff Writer
The Third District Court of Appeal yesterday upheld the torture conviction of former criminal defense attorney Richard William Hamlin of El Dorado Hills.
Although sufficient evidence that Hamlin’s course of conduct physically abusing his wife supported the torture conviction, the panel ruled that El Dorado Superior Court Judge Eddie T. Keller erred in imposing upper terms on Hamlin’s convictions for making a criminal threat and inflicting corporal injury on a spouse based on facts not found to exist by the jury, admitted by defendant, or justified based on defendant’s record of prior convictions.
Hamlin’s wife, identified in the opinion only as S., testified that Hamlin physically abused her every day, sometimes multiple times each day, and in front of the couple’s four children, between June 2003 and February 2004.
The prosecution contended that Hamlin had committed the crime of torture against S. by his conduct.
A jury found Hamlin guilty of torture, three counts of misdemeanor child abuse, on count of making a criminal threat, and three counts of inflicting corporal injury on a spouse.
At sentencing, Keller found that Hamlin had induced others to participate in the commission of the crime, his crime was carried out with planning, sophistication, and professionalism, he took advantage of a position of trust or confidence to commit his crimes, and he engaged in violent conduct, indicating [he is] a serious danger to society.
Based on these factors in aggravation, Keller sentenced Hamlin to life in prison on the torture count and the upper term of three years on the criminal threat count. Keller also imposed but stayed the upper term of four years on each count of inflicting corporal injury on a spouse.
Penal Code Sec. 206 provides that a person is guilty of torture if he “inflicts great bodily injury” “with the intent to cause cruel or extreme pain and suffering for the purpose of revenge, extortion, persuasion, or any sadistic purpose.”
On appeal, Hamlin contended that there was insufficient evidence that he acted with the requisite intent because the word “inflicts” does not denote conduct that can occur over a period of time.
Writing for the appellate court, Justice Ronald B. Robie explained that Sec. 206 does not require an intent to cause prolonged pain, not the actual cause of prolonged pain.
Noting the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary’s definition of “inflict” as meaning “to cause (something unpleasant) to be endured,” Robie wrote “[o]bviously a person can be forced to endure something unpleasant over a period of time.”
Reasoning by analogy to the crimes of child, spousal, and animal abuse, which can be committed by a course of conduct rather than a single act, Robie concluded that the gravamen of each offense is the cumulative outcome of any number of acts, the corporal injury to the victim.
Because the torture count was charged and tried as a course-of-conduct crime, Robie explained that as long as the jury could reasonably find that he intended to cause his wife severe pain while engaged in the course of conduct that resulted in great bodily injury, the evidence was sufficient to support a torture conviction.
Citing S.’s testimony that Hamlin “targeted already broken bones and swollen bruises,” and the regularity of the attacks, Robie suggested that a jury could reasonably believe that Hamlin knew where he had struck S. recently and where he could strike again to cause greater pain, and therefore had the requisite intent.
Turning to Hamlin’s instructional error claims, Robie explained that the trial court did not err in instructing the jury with CALJIC 2.51, which provides the presence of motive could be considered as a circumstance tending to establish guilt, because motive is not an element of torture.
Hamlin was also not entitled to an instruction on attempted torture as a lesser included offense because a jury could not reasonably believe S.’s testimony that Hamlin had hit her, but at the same time believed S.’s physical injuries were not caused by defendant’s beatings, Robie wrote.
Additionally, Robie rejected Hamlin’s contention that he was entitled to an instruction on assault by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury because it is not a lesser included offense of torture, as torture can be committed by means of force not likely to produce great bodily injury.
As for Hamlin’s claims of sentencing error, Robie noted the absence of any evidence that Hamlin induced others to participate in the commission of his crimes, or that he occupied a position of leadership or dominance in the commission of those crimes.
“[T]he fact that defendant was the children’s father and the sole source of income says nothing about whether he took advantage of that position to commit the crimes at issue here,” Robie reasoned.
And although Hamlin unquestionably engaged in violent conduct, Robie concluded that his conduct did not exceed the force necessary to consummate the crime of inflicting corporal injury on a spouse such that he would pose a serious danger to society.
Because he reasoned a jury would not have found the aggravating circumstances which the trial court relied upon to impose upper term sentences to be true beyond a reasonable doubt, Robie concluded the upper term sentences for child abuse, making a criminal threat, and spousal abuse had to be reversed.
Robie also rejected Hamlin’s claims based on the timeliness of the child abuse charges and juror misconduct. The life sentence for the torture count also did not constitute cruel and unusual punishment, and Hamlin had no First Amendment right to willfully inflict unjustifiable mental suffering on his children by falsely telling them that their mother and grandfather were both child molesters, that they themselves had been molested by their mother, and that their grandfather was the leader of a satanic cult that was plotting to kill their father and kidnap or kill the children, Robie added.
Justice Richard Sims and retired Justice Fred K. Morrison, sitting by assignment, joined Robie in his opinion.
The case is People v. Hamlin, 09 S.O.S. 768.
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