PEOPLE v. SOLANO No. B222662.
THE PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. ERIC J. SOLANO, Defendant and Appellant.
Court of Appeals of California, Second District, Division Seven.
Filed May 16, 2011.
John Steinberg, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Defendant and Appellant.
Kamala D. Harris, Attorney General, Dane R. Gillette, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Pamela C. Hamanaka, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Chung L. Mar and Corey J. Robins, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.
NOT TO BE PUBLISHED IN THE OFFICIAL REPORTS
PERLUSS, P. J.
Eric J. Solano appeals from his convictions following two jury trials of attempted willful, deliberate and premeditated murder of a peace officer, three counts of assault with a firearm upon a peace officer, possession of marijuana for sale and possession of a firearm in violation of a probation condition with true findings Solano had used a firearm during the commission of the attempted murder, aggravated assault and drug offenses and all the offenses except the drug charge had been committed to benefit a criminal street gang. (Pen. Code, § 186.22, subd. (b)(1)(c).)
Solano contends insufficient evidence supports the first jury's true finding he used a gun in the commission of the possession-for-sale offense or, alternatively, the court should have stayed imposition of that firearm-use enhancement under section 654. Solano also contends the court erred by failing to bifurcate the criminal street gang allegations before his retrial on the attempted murder and aggravated assault counts, allowing the People to introduce expert testimony to prove Solano's intent when he shot at police officers, allowing the People to refer to the officers as "victims" during the trial, admitting prejudicial and irrelevant evidence that Solano's older brother, Oscar Solano, had been convicted of a gang-related double homicide and dismissing a juror for cause during deliberations.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
1. The Charges
Solano was charged in an information filed June 12, 2008 with one count of attempted premeditated, deliberate and intentional murder of a peace officer (§§ 187, subd. (a), 664, subds. (e), (f)), five counts of assault with a firearm on a peace officer (§ 245, subd. (d)(1)), possession of marijuana for sale (Health & Saf. Code, § 11359) and possession of a firearm in violation of an express condition of probation (§ 12021, subd. (d)(1)). It was specially alleged that Solano had both used and personally discharged a firearm within the meaning of section 12022.53, subdivisions (b) and (c), in committing attempted murder and the aggravated assaults on police officers, that he had personally used a firearm within the meaning of section 12022.5, subdivision (a), in committing the possession-for-sale offense and that each of the offenses had been committed to benefit a criminal street gang.
2. The First Trial
a. The People's evidence
A search warrant for the home in which Solano and members of his extended family were living was obtained based on information Solano, a suspected member of the Northside Bolen Parque gang, was selling illegal drugs from the residence. At 5:00 a.m on February 27, 2008, 13 officers of the Baldwin Park Police Department's special response team and additional police personnel executed the warrant. Officers knocked on the front door and announced their presence in Spanish and English. After hearing what sounded like someone running away from the door, officers began to forcibly enter the home. Because officers were having a difficult time prying open the metal security door, another officer broke a nearby window to cause a distraction and to see into the residence while officers continued making announcements. About 10 seconds later, as officers were entering through the front door, Solano fired a gun at them. Officers returned fire, hitting Solano in the chest and neck.
Eight people, including children, were in the home when the search warrant was executed. Guillermo Solis, the long-time boyfriend of Solano's mother, Leticia, and father of two children with her, testified he was sleeping in the living room with Leticia and their son when he was awakened by pounding on the door. After the window broke he saw police officers wearing uniforms and helmets and heard them say, "Police, open the door." Solano's younger sister, Crystal Solano, testified she was sleeping in one of the two bedrooms with three people when she was awakened by banging on the doors and windows and screaming. Crystal ran into the living room to see what was happening, and her mother was screaming Guillermo's name. Crystal heard officers yelling, "search warrant, search warrant." Crystal began pulling her mother toward the bedroom when the shooting began.
Officers recovered a revolver from under Solano's leg, 400 grams of marijuana from the bedroom, two scales and two boxes of plastic sandwich bags. Baldwin Park Police Officer Mike Hemenway, one of the officers who executed the search warrant and an expert on possession of narcotics for sale, opined, given "the packaging material, the scales, the amount of marijuana, and the firearm," the marijuana, valued at between $350 and $6,000, was possessed for sale. Officer Hemenway explained the purpose of the firearm was "to protect [Solano] from people that want to steal from him or the police."
Baldwin Park Police Detective Mark Adams, also a member of the special response team, testified both as a participant in the incident and as an expert on criminal street gangs. In addition to testifying to the primary criminal activities of Northside Bolen Parque (vandalism, theft, robbery, witness intimidation and violent crimes), the gang's alliance with the Mexican Mafia and evidence of Solano's membership in the gang),
Detective Adams identified photographs of graffiti taken near Solano's home approximately nine months after the incident. One photo stated, "FUCK THE PIGS!" with an NSBP notation near it; another photo taken near the first had graffiti including, "FUCK THE COPS."
Detective Adams denied on cross-examination that what occurred could have been "an attempted suicide by cop"—that is, where a person provokes officers to fire at him or her in an effort to commit suicide—even though it is likely firing a gun at 13 police officers with high-powered weapons will provoke them to fire back with potentially lethal consequences.
b. The defense's evidence
Testifying on his own behalf, Solano, who was 20 years old at the time of trial, admitted he had been associated with the Northside Bolen Parque gang since he was 16 years old. Solano claimed he was not an actual member of the gang because he had never been "jumped in," that is, given the beating most gang members must endure to be initiated, because his brother, Oscar Solano, who was sentenced in January 2005 to life in prison, is a gang member. Solano explained he would have been permitted to leave the gang life because he had not been jumped in and had been planning to move to Washington with his pregnant girlfriend to live with her mother, who was going to give him a job.
Solano admitted he was selling marijuana at the time the search warrant was executed. He testified he was sleeping in a bedroom when he heard loud noises, banging on the bedroom door and his mother screaming his name. Solano jumped out of bed, opened the bedroom door and saw the front door shaking like someone was trying to break in; his mother also told him someone was trying to break in. Solano ordered his mother to go to her room and call the police. He then went back into the bedroom and retrieved a gun he kept for protection.
On redirect examination Solano admitted harming a police officer enhances a gang member's reputation within the gang and, had he killed a police officer during the incident, he believed it would have enhanced his reputation within the gang.
c. The verdict
The first jury could not reach a unanimous verdict on the counts charging Solano with the attempted murder of a peace office and aggravated assault on other officers, but convicted him of possession of marijuana for sale and possession of a firearm in violation of a probation condition and found true special allegations he had used a firearm in the commission of the marijuana offense and the firearm had been possessed for the benefit of a criminal street gang. The jury could not agree whether Solano had been selling marijuana to benefit a criminal street gang.
3. Solano's Motion To Bifurcate
Before his retrial on the attempted murder and aggravated assault charges, Solano moved to bifurcate trial of the criminal street gang allegations relating to those counts.
The trial court denied the motion, explaining, "Gang evidence as to the assaultive behavior may explain his motive. . . . And if the gang evidence were to be believed, might explain [Solano's] sudden, violent behavior, and might explain [Solano's] state of mind as he engaged in that sudden, violent behavior."
4. The Second Trial
a. The People's evidence
Many of the witnesses from the first trial presented largely consistent testimony at the second trial. Detective Adams testified again that gangs benefit from engaging in violence against police officers because it dissuades citizens from reporting crimes and testifying against gang members and that gang members who engage in such violence gain the respect of their fellow gang members. On cross-examination Detective Adams acknowledged a gang member who kills a police officer could attract undesirable attention to the gang as law enforcement searches for the perpetrator, but denied he had seen or heard gang experts opine that murdering a police officer would cause a gang member to be ostracized.
As at the first trial, defense counsel asked whether "suicide by cop" was a reasonable explanation for Solano's conduct and urged Detective Adams to "[p]retend you're on the jury in your own mind." After Adams responded it was difficult for him to do that because he knew all the facts, defense counsel asked, "But your opinion is—" Adams responded, "My opinion is that he shot at the police to promote his gang, to promote himself, to avoid apprehension, because he has a long-standing dislike of the police. And the gang culture has taught him that the police are about the worst thing on earth and shooting at them doesn't seem like it's as awful as it would seem to regular citizens like the jury."
b. The defense's evidence
Solano testified there was an old, noisy air conditioning unit in his bedroom that was "banging and clanging" the morning the search warrant was executed even though the outside air temperature was in the 50s. Solano explained, "I like to turn it on because in the morning where my room is at, the sun always hits it . . . so I just leave it on so I don't have to wake up in the morning and turn it on." Although Solano testified at the first trial he woke to loud banging outside his bedroom and his mother screaming his name, at the second trial he stated his mother was screaming, but "I couldn't hear her. I don't know if she was screaming my name but she was screaming loud."
Solano also presented the testimony of gang expert Dr. James Shaw. Dr. Shaw opined that it is uncommon for a gang member to deliberately shoot at a police officer and that gangs have punished their members for such conduct because it incites the police to conduct raids and arrests in their territory and invites other forms of retaliation. Dr. Shaw also explained the increased police scrutiny damages gangs' ability to generate revenue from drug and weapon sales, which adversely affects their reputation among other gangs.
On cross-examination Dr. Shaw's credibility was challenged by the prosecutor. For example, the prosecutor established Dr. Shaw knew virtually nothing about the Northside Bolen Parque gang, was not sure if he had ever spoken with anyone from that gang and had never interviewed Solano. Essentially the only preparation he had done in connection with the case was to review an email from Solano's counsel, which was admitted into evidence, meet with counsel for about an hour and talk to Solano's mother. Dr. Shaw was unfamiliar with several specific cases in which police officers had been shot by gang members, did not know generally how many officers annually were the victims of attempted murder or assault by southern Hispanic gang members and was not familiar with a unit in the district attorney's office devoted to crimes against police officers.
The prosecutor also questioned Dr. Shaw about an internet social media profile Dr. Shaw had posted, but had removed before trial. The profile, which was admitted into evidence, stated in part, "If you don't have an Expert, the court can treat you like dirt. If you don't want time in jail, and don't want to be somebody's shemale, then tell your lawyer to call me. If you don't want time in the state pen, and don't want to be somebody's bitch-twin, then tell your lawyer to call me. If you want to be free to go home, instead of going to prison to be somebody's maricon, tell your lawyer to call me. . . . Your lawyer and I can work together for your defense. Judges, lawyers, and police buy and read my book (`Jack and Jill, Why They Kill') all over Los Estados Unidos. When lawyers introduce me in Court, Judges and Juries respect that. Estoy serio. Rich folks have Experts supporting them in court. Why don't you?" Dr. Shaw explained he had removed the profile "[b]ecause it was brought up by one of your colleagues in a different court not so long ago, and . . . and one of your colleagues was trying to embarrass me in court by making it look like I had something solicitous up there, and I didn't."
c. The verdict
The second jury found Solano guilty of attempted willful, deliberate and premeditated murder of a peace officer and three counts of assault with a firearm upon a peace officer. The jury also found true the special allegations Solano had used a firearm during the commission of the offenses and the offenses had been committed to benefit a criminal street gang.
5. The Sentence
The trial court sentenced Solano to an aggregate state prison term of 88 years, eight months to life: an indeterminate term of 15 years to life for the attempted, premeditated murder of a police officer, plus 20 years for the use of a firearm in the commission of the attempted murder (§ 12022.53, subd. (c)); a consecutive determinate term of eight years for the count three assault with a firearm on a police officer, plus 10 years for the criminal street gang enhancement, plus 20 years for the use of a firearm (§ 12022.53, subd. (c)); a further consecutive term of two years for the count four assault with a firearm on a peace officer (one-third the middle term), plus three years, four months for the criminal street gang enhancement, plus six years, eight months for the use of a firearm (§ 12022.53, subd. (c)); a consecutive term of eight months for possession of marijuana for sale (one-third the middle term), plus one year, four months for the use of a firearm (§ 12022.5, subdivision (a)); and a consecutive term of eight months for possession of a firearm by a prohibited person (one-third the middle term), plus one year for the criminal street gang enhancement. The sentence for the count two assault with a firearm on a police officer—the same officer who was the victim of the attempted murder—was stayed pursuant to section 654.
1. Substantial Evidence Supports the Jury's True Finding Solano Used a Gun in the Commission of the Possession-for-sale Offense
a. Standard of review
To assess a claim of insufficient evidence in a criminal case, including whether substantial evidence supports a firearm enhancement (People v. Wilson (2008)
b. Sufficient evidence supports the firearm-use enhancement
A person who is armed with or uses a firearm during the commission of a felony or attempted felony is subject to increased punishment. The Legislature, drawing "a distinction between being armed with a firearm in the commission of a felony and using a firearm in the commission of a felony," has "made firearm use subject to more severe penalties. (Compare § 12022.5 [providing for increased punishment of between three and ten years for firearm use in the commission of a felony] with § 12022 [in general imposing a one-year sentence enhancement for being armed with a firearm in the commission of a felony . . .].)" (People v. Bland (1995)
"A defendant is armed if the defendant has the specified weapon available for use, either offensively or defensively." (People v. Bland, supra, 10 Cal.4th at p. 997.) When a defendant engages in a crime of a continuing nature, like felony drug possession, the defendant is considered armed within the meaning of section 12022, subdivision (a), if the defendant "has a weapon available at any time during the felony to aid in its commission." (Bland, at p. 999; see id. at p. 995 ["when the prosecution has proved a charge of felony drug possession, and the evidence at trial shows that a firearm was found in close proximity to the illegal drugs in a place frequented by the defendant, a jury may reasonably infer: (1) that the defendant knew of the firearm's presence; (2) that its presence together with the drugs was not accidental or coincidental; and (3) that, at some point during the period of illegal drug possession, the defendant had the firearm close at hand and thus available for immediate use to aid in the drug offense"]; accord, People v. Pitto (2008)
A defendant uses a firearm if he or she displays the firearm in a menacing manner, intentionally fires it or intentionally strikes or hits a human being with it. (See People v. Johnson (1995)
Solano concedes he was armed with a firearm in connection with possessing marijuana for sale, but, in arguments reciting inconsistent and erroneous versions of the facts, contends there was no evidence the gun was used to aid in the commission of the offense. In his opening brief Solano mistakenly argues the marijuana was found in the garage, while the gun was in the bedroom. In his reply brief Solano acknowledges the marijuana was found in the bedroom, but, after stating the gun had been under his bed, then argues on the following page he retrieved it from under the couch in the living room.
Even if we ignore these significant conflicts, there is no merit to Solano's contention that the evidence supports only the inference he used the gun in connection with the attempted murder and aggravated assault charges, not to facilitate his possession of marijuana for sale. Indeed, Solano's argument is belied by his theory of defense at the first trial that he believed intruders may have been breaking into his home, so he fired a warning shot to scare them away. The first jury was entitled to infer from Solano's own testimony, as well as Officer Hemenway's, who opined Solano possessed the marijuana for sale in part because he possessed a gun "to protect [himself] from people that want to steal from him," that Solano was attempting to defend against the theft of his marijuana, as well as to protect his home. Although there may also have been evidence suggesting a different purpose for retrieving and firing the gun, the jury was not required to accept that explanation or even to conclude that Solano used the gun during the incident for a single purpose. (Cf. People v. Bland, supra, 10 Cal.4th at p. 999 [explaining the Court had deemed immaterial in People v. Fierro (1991)
2. Solano's Sentence Does Not Violate Section 654
Solano contends the trial court erred by enhancing the possession-for-sale sentence for firearm use pursuant to section 12022.5, subdivision (a), because his sentence was also enhanced for the same firearm use with the same victims in connection with the attempted murder and aggravated assault charges (§ 12022.53, subd. (c)). According to Solano firing the weapon was a single act, and there was no evidence he harbored separate intents.
Section 654 prohibits separate punishment for multiple offenses arising from the same act or from a series of acts constituting an indivisible course of criminal conduct. (People v. Rodriguez (2009)
Section 654 does not prohibit imposition of the same sentencing enhancement, if proved, to several underlying offenses if those offenses themselves are not subject to section 654. (See People v. Akins (1997)
2. The Trial Court Did Not Abuse Its Discretion in Denying Solano's Motion to Bifurcate
To obtain a true finding on an allegation of a criminal street gang enhancement, the People must prove the crime at issue was "committed for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with any criminal street gang, with the specific intent to promote, further, or assist in any criminal conduct by gang members . . . ." (§ 186.22, subd. (b)(1).) To prove a gang is a "criminal street gang," the prosecution must demonstrate it has as one of its "primary activities" the commission of one or more of the crimes enumerated in section 186.22, subdivision (e), and it has engaged in a "pattern of criminal gang activity" by committing two or more such "predicate offenses." (§ 186.22, subds. (e), (f); see People v. Gardeley (1996)
Bifurcation of the trial of a gang enhancement allegation is permitted, but the decision to bifurcate lies within the discretion of the trial court. (See People v. Hernandez (2004)
The trial judge, who had presided at the first trial and was familiar with the issues and the evidence, did not abuse his discretion in denying Solano's bifurcation motion. (See People v. Catlin (2001)
3. Any Error in Admitting Detective Adam's Testimony Regarding Solano's Subjective Knowledge and Intent Was Invited
To establish the elements required for a criminal street gang enhancement, the Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed the use of expert testimony provided by law enforcement professionals who have experience in the area of gang culture and psychology. (See, e.g., People v. Gardeley, supra, 14 Cal.4th at p. 618 [expert testimony by police detective particularly appropriate in gang enhancement case to assist fact finder in understanding gang behavior]; People v. Gonzalez (2006)
Generally, a gang expert may give opinion testimony based on hypothetical questions rooted in the evidentiary facts. (People v. Gardeley, supra, 14 Cal.4th at p. 618.) An expert may not testify as to the subjective knowledge and intent of a specific individual. (People v. Gonzalez, supra, 38 Cal.4th at p. 946; People v. Killebrew (2002)
Had this testimony been elicited on direct examination by the People, we might agree with Solano. It was not. On cross-examination Solano's counsel asked Detective Adams a series of hypothetical questions about "suicide by cop" and then followed with a question about Solano's subjective state of mind: "But it would be fair to say that if Mr. Solano knew that they were police officers, and he shot at them anyway, that would be a reasonable, plausible explanation of his conduct other than he wanted to kill them to gain respect?" In attempting to clarify the question for Detective Adams, Solano's counsel pressed further, asking him to put himself in the mind of the jury. Still unable to obtain a satisfactory answer, Solano's counsel asked an open-ended question about Detective Adam's opinion. The challenged opinion testimony was given in response to that broad question. The opinion concerning Solano's subjective state of mind was clearly invited by Solano's counsel and is not cognizable on appeal. (See, e.g., People v. Gutierrez (2002)
4. Evidence of Oscar Solano's Gang Affiliation and Murder Conviction Was Not Unduly Prejudicial
Solano contends evidence that Oscar Solano had been convicted of a gang-related double murder, admitted to show Solano's animosity toward the police and as a predicate act for the gang enhancements, was highly inflammatory, minimally probative and cumulative given the admission of other evidence to prove the predicate acts. Solano argues the evidence impermissibly portrayed him as following in his brother's footsteps, substituting evidence of criminal propensity for proof he intentionally shot at police officers.
As discussed, "gang evidence is admissible if relevant to motive or identity, so long as its probative value is not outweighed by its prejudicial effect." (People v. Williams (1997)
In ruling on Solano's motion to bifurcate, the trial court generally evaluated admission of the gang evidence and properly concluded it was relevant to Solano's motive, providing the jury with one theory as to why Solano might have knowingly—and at great risk to himself— shot at police officers, and not unduly prejudicial. Solano, however, did not specifically object to the admission of evidence about Oscar's conviction as more prejudicial than any of the other gang evidence. The trial court was not required sua sponte to parse and evaluate the specific gang evidence that might be introduced, and Solano has forfeited his argument by failing to specifically and timely object to the evidence. (See People v. Williams (2008)
Even if Solano's counsel had objected, the only issue would be whether it was an abuse of discretion not to exclude this evidence under Evidence Code section 352
The evidence of Oscar's conviction and the inferences the People argued should be drawn from it—that Solano harbored more animus toward law enforcement than the typical gang member and was committed to the gang life notwithstanding the consequences he witnessed his brother experience—were relevant to the People's theory Solano knowingly shot at police officers and was not, as he claimed, merely trying to defend his home. There was nothing about the evidence that uniquely tended to evoke an emotional bias against Solano; that gang membership is often a family affliction is not startling news. Indeed, also admitted into evidence, without objection other than to gang evidence generally, were pictures on Solano's cellular phone of Oscar Solano's young son making Northside Bolen Parque gang signals. The trial court did not abuse it discretion in permitting evidence of Oscar's gang-related murder conviction.
5. Even If Error, Any References During Trial to the Police Officers as Victims Was Harmless
Solano contends the trial court erred in denying his pretrial motion to prohibit the prosecutor from referring to police officers as "victims" until closing argument. Solano argues characterizing the officers as victims prior to argument is conclusory, argumentative and undermines the presumption of innocence by sending a message to the jury the People's version of events is the correct one.
In People v. Williams (1860) 17 Cal. 142 (Williams), a murder prosecution with a claim of self-defense, the trial court referred to the decedent as a "`victim'" when instructing the jury. (Id. at p. 146.) The Supreme Court cautioned against use of that word: "The word victim, in the connection in which it appears, is an unguarded expression, calculated, though doubtless unintentionally, to create prejudice against the accused. It seems to assume that the deceased was wrongfully killed, when the very issue was as to the character of the killing. We are not disposed to criticise language very closely in order to reverse a judgment of this sort, but it is apparent that in a case of conflicting proofs, even an equivocal expression coming from the Judge, may be fatal to the prisoner. . . . The Court should not, directly or indirectly, assume the guilt of the accused, nor employ equivocal phrases which may leave such an impression. The experience of every lawyer shows the readiness with which a jury frequently catch at intimations of the Court, and the great deference which they pay to the opinions and suggestions of the presiding Judge, especially in a closely balanced case, when they can thus shift the responsibility of a decision of the issue from themselves to the Court." (Id. at p. 147.)
The Williams Court was concerned with the trial court's use of the word "victim." Solano, however, complains about the prosecutor's use of that word. This distinction was recognized as significant in People v. Wolfe (1954)
Similarly, in People v. Sanchez (1989)
Unlike in Wolfe and Sanchez Solano objected, by way of a pretrial motion, to any reference by the prosecutor to the police officers as victims. Assuming without deciding the trial court's ruling denying that motion was erroneous, the error was harmless under any standard. (See Chapman v. California (1967)
6. The Dismissal of Juror Number 6 for Cause During Deliberations Did Not Violate Solano's Right to Due Process
a. The dismissal of Juror No. 6
After the first full day of deliberations, the bailiff advised the trial court he had found a paperback book in the jury room entitled Prison to Praise.
The court determined Juror No. 6 had brought the book into the jury room. Some jurors reported Juror No. 6 had left copies of the book in the hallway and had individually given them a copy. Although several jurors said there had been no reference to the book, its content or religion during deliberations, the jury foreperson, Juror No. 10, told the court Juror No. 6 had expressed "religious feelings" to which she responded, "we need to separate" that from the deliberations. Juror No. 4 reported Juror No. 6 had made a reference to the defendant "being young and he still can be saved and his salvation."
Juror No. 11 reported the most concern about Juror No. 6, stating, "He was passing [the book] out to people that were sitting around him and talking and preaching about his church" and "everyday he's got it in his pocket." Juror No. 11 stated he had been thinking the previous evening "how I felt that it was inappropriate," so he had asked the jury foreperson that morning whether they should say something to the bailiff.
With respect to whether Juror No. 6 had referred to salvation, redemption or any religious precepts during deliberations, Juror No. 11 responded, "[H]e made one comment in the jury room about . . . the fact that . . . the defendant is young and made bad choices and something to the effect that he hadn't found—maybe hasn't found God yet or something like that and not—didn't specifically, if I recollect . . . didn't specifically use the word `God' . . . but implying God. . . . And the [jury foreperson], she heard it, and she did say . . . we're not supposed to use our religious beliefs or anything else in deciding the facts of this case. . . . And that's why I brought it to her attention this morning, because I felt as though his beliefs are maybe getting in the way of him—." In response to the court's question whether Juror No. 6 appeared to accept the foreperson's admonition to limit discussion of the case to the facts and instructions, Juror No. 11 responded, "No, he was not able to," as demonstrated by "[b]ody language. Things that were said, kind of flip-flopping back and forth . . . just kind of the same implication."
Juror No. 6, whom the court questioned last, explained he had brought copies of the book because the court had said to "bring requested reading" and "I had a whole bunch of them, so I gave it to my friends, you know, the people." Juror No. 6 denied he had "utilize[d] any of the religious tenets or tones in the book or in [his] own religious experience in terms of how to evaluate the evidence or the instructions" and denied he had "discuss[ed] the subject of penalty or punishment or redemption or that sort of thing with the other jurors."
The court found Juror No. 6 had committed misconduct and excused him for cause. The court explained, "Certainly carrying this type of a tome into the jury room and placing it prominently on the table in the jury room—as a matter of credibility, I think Nos. 10 and 11 were both highly credible witnesses—it's clearly misconduct. There's no way of slicing it. And something with a big color print on the front with the word `prison' in it is clearly misconduct." Regarding Juror No. 6's credibility, the court found, "looking at his body language and looking at what he said, he didn't seem real credible at all on any of the things he said, other than, I brought the books in."
b. The court properly exercised its broad discretion to remove Juror No. 6
The trial court may discharge a juror for good cause during deliberations if it finds the juror is unable to perform his or her duty. (See People v. Lomax (2010)
"Although decisions to investigate juror misconduct and to discharge a juror are matters within the trial court's discretion . . . `a somewhat stronger showing' than is typical for abuse of discretion review must be made to support such decisions on appeal. . . . [T]he basis for a juror's disqualification must appear on the record as a `demonstrable reality.' This standard involves `a more comprehensive and less deferential review' than simply determining whether any substantial evidence in the record supports the trial court's decision. [Citation.] It must appear `that the court as trier of fact did rely on evidence that, in light of the entire record, supports its conclusion that bias was established.'" (People v. Lomax, supra, 49 Cal.4th at p. 589.) In applying the demonstrable reality test, the court does not reweigh the evidence. (Ibid.) "The inquiry is whether `the trial court's conclusion is manifestly supported by evidence on which the court actually relied.'" (Id. at p. 590.)
Solano contends the facts reveal only an ambiguous indication that Juror No. 6 was unable to perform his duties and the court did not undertake the "careful questioning" required to ensure Juror No. 6 could not fulfill his responsibilities to deliberate without bias, instead presuming the worst. (See People v. Compton (1971)
To be sure, the trial court asked Juror No. 6 very few questions. Nevertheless, they were key questions. Juror's No. 6's responses revealed, at best, a complete lack of self-awareness of the pervasive nature of his religious views and their impact on the deliberative process. In conflict with the reports by Juror Nos. 10 and 11—jurors the trial court found highly credible—Juror No. 6 essentially denied he had raised issues of a religious nature during deliberations or discussed redemption with the other jurors. Those disingenuous responses, coupled with his distribution of the books to other jurors, strongly support the trial court's conclusion Juror No. 6 could not impartially deliberate whatever assurances he might have given if asked additional questions. The basis for Juror No. 6's disqualification appeared on the record as a "demonstrable reality."
The judgment is affirmed.
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