California Supreme Court:
Man Convicted of Murder Entitled to Evidentiary Hearing
Guerrero Says Jury’s Finding of Intent to Kill Is Insufficient to Summarily Deny Resentencing Petition
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A man who was convicted of murder after a jury was instructed under the now-repudiated “natural and probable consequences” theory cannot be heard to challenge the finding that he had an intent to kill, the California Supreme Court held yesterday, but that does not necessarily preclude a resentencing petition being granted, it declared.
“[T]he jury’s intent to kill finding meets the traditional threshold requirements for issue preclusion,” Chief Justice Patricia Guerrero wrote for a unanimous court, but said that “this conclusion does not end our inquiry,” which necessarily extends to an examination of “all of the required elements” of the crime of murder.
The opinion affirms the Nov. 4, 2021 determination by Div. Three of the Fourth District Court of Appeal that Freddy Alfredo Curiel, who was convicted of a 2002 first-degree murder, is entitled to an evidentiary hearing in connection with his petition under Penal Code §1172.6(a) for a resentencing. Orange Superior Court Judge Julian W. Bailey had summarily denied the petition, ruling that the jury’s finding of an intent to kill was dispositive.
Curial was not the shooter. That person was Abraham Hernandez.
Under Senate Bill 1437, malice aforethought on the part of Hernandez can no longer be fictionally imputed to Curial, and relief under §1172.6(a) is available if, under current law, Curial could not today be convicted of murder. However, under §189(e), a person can be convicted if that person “was not the actual killer, but, with the intent to kill, aided, abetted…, or assisted the actual killer in the commission of murder in the first degree.”
The Court of Appeal determined, in an unpublished opinion by Presiding Justice Kathleen O’Leary, that while the finding of an intent to kill does have a preclusive effect as to mens rea, the petition should not have been denied at the preliminary stage because it was yet to be shown by the People that the actus reus element was satisfied.
“[T]o convict a defendant for first degree murder under the theory of direct aiding and abetting, the prosecution must prove more than just murderous intent,” she wrote, declaring:
“The trial court should have issued an order to show cause and, absent a waiver and stipulation by the parties, ordered a hearing to allow the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that, notwithstanding its reliance on the now-defunct theory of natural and probable consequences, Curiel is ineligible for resentencing because he directly aided and abetted the murder,” she wrote.
Viewing it differently, Guerrero said in yesterday’s opinion that “we need not decide whether the jury necessarily found the requisite actus reus because we conclude the jury did not necessarily find the requisite mens rea for direct aiding and abetting liability.”
No Factual Findings
“[T]he mens rea required of a direct aider and abettor includes knowledge of the perpetrator’s intent to commit an unlawful act constituting the offense and the intent to aid the perpetrator in its commission….The jury’s verdicts, viewed in light of the court’s jury instructions, do not show the jury necessarily made factual findings covering these elements.”
The chief justice elaborated:
“Intent to kill itself does not establish a sufficient mens rea regarding a murder or life-endangering conduct that the aider and abettor has no intent to aid or encourage—and that the aider and abettor does not even subjectively know will occur. Indeed, a defendant could act with intent to kill but at the same time believe the actual perpetrator could never risk harm to another human being—and be genuinely surprised when the actual perpetrator commits a life-endangering act.”
The case is People v. Curiel, 2023 S.O.S. 4196.
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