Court of Appeal:
Criminal Lawyer’s Advice Did Not Violate Racial Justice Act
Man Convicted of Murder Sought Reversal Based on Attorney Counseling Him to ‘Sound Ghetto’
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Div. Five of the First District Court of Appeal on Friday rejected the contention that a conviction for first degree murder with special circumstances should be reversed because the defendant, who is Black, was counseled by his lawyer to use slang and “sound Ghetto” in testifying.
Defendant Demetrius Coleman argued on appeal that alleged advice to him by Lake County attorney Andrea Sullivan violated the California Racial Justice Act of 2020 (“RJA”). That act provides:
“The state shall not seek or obtain a criminal conviction or seek, obtain, or impose a sentence on the basis of race, ethnicity, or national origin.”
Presiding Justice Teri L. Jackson wrote:
“When a defendant testifies in his or her own defense, his or her credibility is always at issue….The record establishes that defense counsel had a valid tactical reason for advising defendant not to change his manner of speaking. Counsel was not ineffective for recognizing the importance of defendant’s appearing authentic and genuine when he testified before his jury. Arguably, there was a factual dispute as to the precise language used when defense counsel discussed defendant’s manner of speaking in preparation for his testimony. However, the record on which defendant asks us to rule reflects that the trial court credited defense counsel’s statement that she told defendant to ‘be yourself.’ It further reflects defendant’s acknowledgment that defense counsel explained to him her concern that defendant should not sound like someone he was not.”
“Even if we assume that in preparation for defendant’s testimony defendant or defense counsel used slang terms regarding defendant’s manner of speaking, when considered in the context of giving advice to testify authentically, we find no violation of the RJA. This record falls far short of meeting defendant’s burden to demonstrate by a preponderance of the evidence that defense counsel’s sound advice indicated racial animus or bias toward him.”
She said that the lawyer’s advice to “speak how you speak” in testifying, “without more, does not indicate racial bias or animus sufficient to support a violation of the RJA.”
Coleman was convicted in Humboldt Superior Court on Nov. 10, 2020 of an Aug. 29, 2019 drive-by shooting. He was sentenced by Judge Kelly L. Neel to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, with additional consecutive terms based on enhancements.
Jackson’s opinion orders a parole revocation restitution stricken because there is no prospect of parole.
The case is People v. Coleman, A165198.
On Aug. 9, 2022, Coleman was sentenced by Humboldt Superior Court Judge Kaleb Cockrum to a concurrent term of three years in prison for receiving $31,800 in unemployment benefits during a period when he was in jail, awaiting trial. His girlfriend, co-defendant Alma Ahumada-Mendoza, was placed on probation and ordered to repay the funds.
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