Monday, October 29, 2012
Informant-Testimony Law Not Retroactive—C.A.
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A new California law barring criminal convictions based on uncorroborated testimony by jailhouse informants does not apply to a defendant who was convicted and sentenced before the law took effect, the Court of Appeal for this district ruled Friday.
Div. One affirmed Jimmy Gonzalez’s conviction for first degree murder. Gonzalez is serving a prison term of 80 years to life for the murder of Mikko Brooks, 32, who was found dead inside her apartment in Bellflower on the morning of Jan. 9, 2008.
Gonzalez was the passenger in a car driven by Sheena Santos when she was pulled over three days after the murder for speeding and running stop signs. Property belonging to Brooks was found in the car, and a fingerprint found at the murder scene was found to belong to Santos.
Gonzalez was charged after Robert Andrade, who had known Gonzalez since they were children and belonged to the same gang, said that Gonzalez had confessed to him while they shared a jail cell. Andrade testified that he had been a paid informant for the Long Beach Police Department since 2007 and had been promised a reduced sentence on a pending robbery charge in exchange for testifying in Gonzalez’s case.
Gonzalez, Andrade testified, said he shot the victim because she was involved with a rival gang. Before the murder, Gonzalez allegedly told him, Gonzalez was part of a group of people hanging out in the apartment and using drugs, but the others had left before the shooting.
The defense argued on appeal that the conviction should be thrown out under a retroactive application of Penal Code Sec. 1111.5. The law—which took effect at the beginning of this year, nearly three months after Gonzalez was sentenced, provides that a defendant may not be convicted “based on the uncorroborated testimony of an in-custody informant,” and defines “in-custody informant” to mean “a person . . . whose testimony is based on statements allegedly made by the defendant while both the defendant and the informant were held within a city or county jail.”
Justice Jeffrey Johnson, writing for Div. One, said the statute falls under the traditional rule that legislation is not applied retroactively absent clear legislative intent.
The justice acknowledged an exception in the case of laws that reduce punishment for a crime. But Gonzalez’s case is different, he said, because while the statute was designed to benefit a certain class of criminal defendants, it “does not lessen or mitigate a criminal penalty for a particular crime,” Johnson wrote.
In a footnote, Johnson questioned whether Gonzalez would be entitled to a reversal even if the statute did apply, citing various other evidence, including taped phone conversations involving the defendant, which the justice said corroborated Andrade’s testimony.
Attorneys on appeal were Jean Ballantine, by appointment, for the defendant and Deputy Attorney General Yun K. Lee for the prosecution.
The case is People v. Gonzalez, 12 S.O.S. 5462.
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