Monday, March 16, 2015
C.A. Upholds Robbery Conviction, Rejects Claim-of-Right Defense
Panel Says Instruction Was Properly Denied Because Property Defendant Took Was Not His
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
A claim-of-right defense cannot be based on a reasonable belief that property taken from the victim belonged to someone other than the defendant, the Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled Friday.
Div. One affirmed Melvin Anderson’s second-strike conviction on charges of residential burglary, first degree robbery, assault with a firearm and being a felon in possession of a firearm.
The charges arose out of a 2012 incident in which Anderson confronted his cousin Niya Watson, and her boyfriend Gregory Moore, about an electronic benefit transfer card—more commonly known as an EBT or “food stamp” card—belonging to another cousin, Kellie Thomas.
According to testimony, Anderson lived with Thomas and children, and Watson and Moore had lived with them as well until Thomas’ mother demanded they leave and paid them to expedite the move. The demand was precipitated by the mother learning that Moore was providing Thomas, an abuser of prescription drugs, with Vicodin.
Thomas would pay Moore in cash, or by letting him use her EBT card to buy food. The arrangement continued after Moore and Watson moved out of Thomas’ residence.
The episode leading to Anderson’s arrest and conviction occurred when he went over to Moore and Watson’s apartment, accompanied by Thomas and her mother, to retrieve the card. According to prosecution witnesses, Moore had been promised $200 for the card’s return, and when Anderson didn’t have the money, Moore told him he needed to use the card for food.
Anderson allegedly responded by forcing his way into the apartment, injuring Moore and displaying a gun, which he pointed at Watson. A medical assistant, who was with a doctor making a house call at a nearby apartment, said he heard screaming and went over to see what was going on and saw what he recognized as a Glock semiautomic handgun in Anderson’s hand.
Alerted by the medical assistant after he returned to his patient’s apartment, police came and were told by Moore that Anderson was probably going to rob him because he had received his welfare check that day.
Anderson testified that he had been monitoring Thomas’ money and her use of the EBT card because of her drug problem, and had become upset when he found out that Moore was selling her pills again and had her EBT card. He admitted going over to the apartment and said he and Moore had struggled for the card, but denied hitting him or carrying, or owning, a gun.
Asked about a photo of Moore with blood coming from his head, Anderson said he may have caused Moore to fall but that he did not hit him on the head.
San Diego Superior Court Judge Francis Devaney denied the defense request for CALCRIM No. 1863 on claim of right. The instruction would have informed jurors “that a defendant’s good faith belief, even if mistakenly held, that he has a right to claim to property he takes from another negates the felonious intent necessary for conviction of theft or robbery.”
Justice Cynthia Aaron, writing for the Court of Appeal, said that Anderson wasn’t entitled to the instruction because he was not claiming a belief that he had a right to the card, but that his cousin had a right to it.
The justice distinguished People v. Williams (2009) 176 Cal.App.4th 1521, which held that an alleged accomplice charged as an aider and abettor may assert as a defense a good faith belief that the principal had a valid claim to the property.
“Anderson would thus have us hold that the claim-of-right defense extends to a defendant who acts to recover property as an agent of the owner of the property just as it does to a defendant who aids and abets the owner in the recovery of his or her property,” the justice wrote. “We decline to extend the claim-of-right defense that far.”
Aaron explained in a footnote that Anderson had admitted under cross-examination that the decision to go to the apartment and retrieve the EBT card was entirely his, and that he asked Thomas and her mother to wait outside the apartment because he did not want them involved. “The record does not support Anderson’s counsel’s assertion at oral argument that Thomas ‘recruited’ Anderson to retrieve her EBT card and acted as his accomplice in the commission of the charged offenses,” the justice wrote.
In an unpublished portion of the opinion, the jurist said the defendant was properly impeached with evidence of his prior gun use. Anderson “opened the door” to such evidence by attempting to contradict the eyewitness testimony that he was holding a Glock by claiming he was unfamiliar with guns, the justice said.
The case is People v. Anderson, 15 S.O.S. 1415.
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