Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Monday, June 7, 2021


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Defendant’s Immigration Status, Deportations Properly Admitted to Show Motive—C.A.


By a MetNews Staff Writer


A Los Angeles Superior Court judge properly admitted evidence that a man on trial for the attempted murder of a deputy sheriff during a traffic stop was an undocumented alien who had twice been deported because it had a bearing on his motive for the shooting, the Court of Appeal for this district held Friday.

San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Rita Coyne Federman, sitting on assignment to Div. One, wrote the opinion, discussing the admission of the defendant Ernesto Casillas’s immigration status in a published portion of the opinion. It affirms his convictions for attempted premeditated murder and assault on a law enforcement officer, assault with a firearm, and two counts of possession of a firearm by a felon.

On May 6, 2010, at about 1:30 a.m., fired two shots at Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy Lorena Rosales after she caused him to pull over. He fled to Mexico but was apprehended five years later and returned here.

The shooting of Rosales followed an incident the previous afternoon when Casillas pulled next to another motorist, Marco Ramos, displayed a gun, and threatened to kill him.

Explanation to Jury

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Alan B. Honeycutt permitted the prosecution to introduce evidence of Castilla’s background for the sole purpose of showing motive. As the deputy district attorney explained it to the jury:

“[In] 2010, the defendant is a meth addict and an alcoholic. He’s been deported two times, and he knows that if he is caught again, even here, he’s likely to be sent to prison, fined, and deported again, especially if he is high, if he has a gun with him, the circumstances that night....Now he’s in the car thinking they got me for the Ramos thing. I got a gun in the car. I got tequila in the car. I got a pipe in the car. I’m not going, they’re not catching me. I am not going to get stopped.”

In explaining why there was no error in admitting the evidence, Federman said:

“In this case, the evidence was not simply that Casillas was an undocumented resident, but that he twice had been deported and was facing up to 20 years in prison if found in the United States. The prosecution argued this evidence was relevant to explain why he might be motivated to shoot and kill a law enforcement officer during a routine traffic stop.”

Evidence Was Probative

She agreed with the prosecution that “[t]he likelihood that Casillas’ apprehension would result in a substantial period of incarceration was probative in establishing that Deputy Rosales posed a serious threat to his freedom,” declaring:

“Thus, contrary to Casillas’ assertion, the challenged evidence was indeed relevant and substantially probative.”

She noted that motive is not an element of a crime, but it can be effective in rebutting the presumption of innocence.

The jury found true allegations that Casillas had personally used and discharged a firearm and admitted a strike under the Three Strikes Law. Honeycutt sentenced him to 18 years in prison and a consecutive term of 55 years-to-life term.

The case is People v. Casillas, B298388.


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