Friday, August 4, 2017
C.A. Reverses First Degree Murder Conviction
Juror’s Insistence That the Defendant, if Found Guilty of Any Lesser Offense, Could ‘Walk Tomorrow,’
Credited With Time Served, Caused Substantial Prejudice to Defendant, Opinion Says
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Fourth District Court of Appeal yesterday reversed a first degree murder conviction because jurors discussed potential penalties.
One juror, the opinion by Justice Douglas P. Miller of Div. Two recited, told the others she worked in a prison and had knowledge that if the defendant were convicted of a crime other than first degree murder, he “could ‘walk tomorrow’ with time served.” Another chimed in, “I don’t want that,” and in the next round of voting, switched his vote in favor of convicting the defendant of first degree murder.
The Office of Attorney General conceded there had been misconduct, but claimed that the presumption of prejudice has been rebutted. Miller said it hasn’t been.
Miller noted that the California Supreme Court in 2009 observed that juror speculation on penalties is “an inevitable feature of the jury system” which might not reach the level of misconduct. In other instances, he said, the prejudicial nature is such as to require reversal.
In the present case, he noted, factors pointing to seriousness are that the discussion came during the guilt phase, the juror who made the comment appeared to be speaking authoritatively, and the discussion was personal to the defendant.
Miller said there are two methods of determining whether prejudice to the defendant is substantial: “(1) inherent prejudice, and (2) actual bias.”
Under either test, he declared, there was substantial prejudice to the defendant, Moses Manual Echavarria.
“The statement about punishment, if it had been introduced at trial, would have necessitated reversal of the judgment,” Miller wrote. “As a result, the misconduct is inherently prejudicial.”
With respect to bias, he said:
“The record reflects a substantial likelihood that the juror who made the statement about punishment was actually influenced by her experience of working in a prison, which caused her to be unable to render a verdict based solely upon the evidence received at trial, given that she shared the sentencing information with other jurors. The juror wanted to ensure defendant received the greatest possible sentence, which required a conviction for first degree murder, regardless of the evidence….In sum, actual bias has been shown.”
The case is People v. Miller, E065257.
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