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People v. Burns

April 8, 2009


APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, James B. Pierce, Judge. Affirmed. (Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. NA070992).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Epstein, P. J.


In the published part of this opinion, we discuss appellant‟s claim that the trial court erred in not instructing the jury on grand theft from the person (Pen. Code, § 487, subd. (c)), as a lesser included offense of robbery (Pen. Code, §§ 211, 212.5, subd. (c)), the crime charged. We find no error because the "purse snatch" in this case, if it occurred at all, was a robbery and there is no substantial evidence that it was anything less. In the nonpublished portions of this opinion we reject claims that the trial court failed to give an appropriate witness/accomplice instruction, and that imposition of the upper term violated principles announced in Cunningham v. California (2007) 549 U.S. 270, and other cases. We shall affirm the judgment of conviction.


Samuel Alexander Burns, the appellant, was convicted of second degree (nonresidential) robbery, and prior convictions charged as enhancements were found true. The evidence came chiefly from testimony of the victim and appellant‟s cousin, and from police officers who obtained statements from these witnesses. In the summary that follows, we apply the standard for appellate review: the record as a whole is reviewed in the light most favorable to the judgment, and the existence of every fact the trier could reasonably deduce from the evidence is presumed. (See People v. Prince (2007) 40 Cal.4th 1179, 1251, and cases cited.)

The victim is Dora Hollowell. On a day in mid-July 2006, she was shopping at a market near her home. She was carrying a small pouch which held a small purse. (We follow the usage of the parties and refer to the item as a purse.) The purse was attached to a strap, which Ms. Hollowell held. She planned to pay for her purchases by using an ATM card, and she went to an ATM machine near the check-out register. She withdrew $70 which she placed in a pocket. While standing in line, she noticed a woman and a man who seemed to be together. They were talking and watching her as she withdrew money from the machine. The woman was so close that "you could almost feel breathing down your back." The woman later was identified as Carnethia Adams, appellant‟s cousin. The man is appellant.

After completing her business at the market, Ms. Hollowell exited the store and walked onto the adjacent parking lot, where she met two friends. Ms. Adams walked up behind Ms. Hollowell, who tried to prolong the conversation with her friends, hoping that Ms. Adams would go away. But she did not and eventually the friends left to enter the store. Ms. Adams proceeded to follow Ms. Hollowell, walking directly behind her. Ms. Adams asked Ms. Hollowell if she wanted to buy crack; Ms. Hollowell said no. Ms. Adams then asked where she was going, and when Ms. Hollowell said she was going home, Ms. Adams said she was going that way and would walk with her. Ms. Hollowell said she did not need anyone to walk with her. She kept walking, and Ms. Adams and appellant walked behind her. Feeling apprehensive about passing an alley where she could be accosted, Ms. Hollowell crossed the street, heading to an apartment building where a friend resided. She called out to the friend, saying that she was on the way up. She walked slowly and with effort because she was wearing surgical boots.

Reaching the apartment building, Ms. Hollowell entered the doors facing the street and called again for her friend, hoping that Ms. Adams and appellant would leave if they thought someone was coming down. Ms. Hollowell started to climb a staircase and reached the fourth step when appellant entered the building and grabbed her purse. The purse was on Ms. Hollowell‟s elbow and he "grabbed it down." She tried to clutch the purse, but appellant stepped on her toe and grabbed the purse. Ms. Hollowell was unable to hold onto it any longer. Appellant pulled the purse down and forcibly took it away from Ms. Hollowell‟s grip, then ran out the door with the purse. Ms. Hollowell saw him as he ran off and yelled that "he was going to pay for what he did."

Ms. Hollowell called 911, police responded, and both appellant and Ms. Adams were apprehended some time later. Ms. Hollowell identified appellant as the person who forcibly seized and carried off the purse she was holding. She was "100 percent" certain of her identification.

Both appellant and Ms. Adams initially were charged with robbery and conspiracy to commit robbery. Ms. Adams pled guilty to robbery and testified at appellant‟s trial shortly after her release from custody. She testified about being with appellant at the market where they spotted Ms. Hollowell receiving money from an ATM machine. She asked Ms. Hollowell if she knew anyone who wanted to buy some weed. She also testified that appellant told her that he had "robbed that lady," saying that he had taken her purse.

The case proceeded to trial against appellant, resulting in a mistrial when the jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict. The case was retried, on the robbery count only, resulting in a verdict of guilty of that crime. Appellant waived his right to jury trial on the prior conviction allegations, which were found true at a bench trial. Probation was denied and defendant was sentenced to five years in state prison. He filed a timely notice of appeal.



Appellant argues that the trial court was required to instruct the jury on grand theft from the person as a lesser included offense to robbery, the crime charged. Theft in any degree is a lesser included offense to robbery, since all of its elements are included in robbery. The difference is that robbery includes the added element of force or fear. (People v. Ortega (1998) 19 Cal.4th 686, 694.) It also is settled law that, as a general proposition, the trial court is required to instruct on all lesser included crimes (People v. Barton (1995) 12 Cal.4th 186, 195), and ...

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