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People v. Duarte

June 2, 2010


Appeal from a judgment of the Superior Court of Orange County, James A. Stotler, Judge. Affirmed as modified. (Super. Ct. No. 07WF0962).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: O'leary, J.



Roberto Duarte, Jr., was convicted of discharging a firearm with gross negligence (count 1-Pen. Code, § 246.3, subd. (a)),*fn2 being a felon in possession of a firearm (count 2-§ 12021, subd. (a)(1)), street terrorism (count 3-§ 186.22, subd. (a)), and misdemeanor brandishing a firearm (count 4-§ 417, subd. (a)(2)(A)). It was also found true he committed two of the felonies for the benefit of a criminal street gang (§ 186.22, subd. (b)(1)), and he had previously suffered a strike and a serious felony prior (§§ 667, subds. (a), (d), (e)(1), 1170.12, subds. (b), (c)(1). After the trial court denied Duarte's new trial motion, the court sentenced him to a total term of 15 years, four months in state prison.

On appeal, Duarte argues the trial court erred in refusing to allow him to introduce evidence the gang expert who testified at trial had destroyed traffic tickets in order to prevent prosecution. He also claims the court erred by failing to stay the sentence on his street terrorism conviction (count 3), and the court should not have imposed punishment for the street terrorism conviction and enhancement. After oral argument, we requested the parties submit supplemental briefing on the effect of People v. Sanchez (2009) 179 Cal.App.4th 1297 (Sanchez), on this case. Based on the well reasoned opinion in Sanchez, we agree the court should have stayed sentencing on count 3 pursuant to section 654. His other claim has no merit, and we affirm the judgment as modified.


Brothers Victor Velasquez and Martin Velasquez*fn3 lived on Amberleaf Circle in Huntington Beach. Victor and Martin were both members of "Amberleaf" (AML) gang. The members of AML considered the group to be a gang, but law enforcement did not consider the group to be a criminal street gang because it did not meet the statutory definition. AML's rival was "South Side Huntington Beach" (SSHB), a criminal street gang.

One early afternoon, after Victor returned home from school, both brothers went to a park at the end of Amberleaf Circle. While at the park, the brothers observed a dark-colored car speed up the street and stop in front of the park. The driver got out of the car and someone yelled, "He's got a gun." The brothers ran and hid in some nearby bushes. From the bushes the brothers heard three gun shots and the shooter yell, "South Side" or "South Side Huntington Beach." The man drove away in the car.

Neither Victor nor Martin immediately reported the incident to the police. It was not until two weeks later, after being arrested for a probation violation, that Martin provided law enforcement with information regarding the shooting. Martin was unable to pick Duarte's picture from a photographic lineup. Victor also provided information regarding the incident at a later date when he got into some trouble with the police over graffiti.

Shortly after the incident, police officers responded to Amberleaf Circle to investigate the shooting. Officers were looking for a midnight blue four-door car with a license plate that partially read: "5DYZ[]18." Although witnesses were fearful and not initially forthcoming, some told officers "Big Time," later identified as Duarte's gang moniker, was on the street with a gun. A witness by the name of Angelita Ramirez declined to speak with officers at the scene, but she agreed to call Officer Juan Munoz later. Later that evening, Ramirez called and spoke with Munoz. Ramirez related she had seen her cousin, Mario Lemus, run in front of her apartment, and she walked out to see why he was running. As she walked out she saw a person who she recognized as "Roberto" pointing a black-colored handgun in her direction. During a later interview, Ramirez was able to identify the gun as a revolver handgun. Ramirez said that when she realized "Roberto" was pointing the gun at her, she walked back into the house and locked the door. "Roberto" was further identified with the last name Duarte, and a physical description. Ramirez indicated Duarte was a male Hispanic, five feet eight to five feet 11 inches tall, about 23 years of age with a shaved head and a tattoo of writing on his neck. Ramirez stated she had known Duarte for approximately five to seven years and had last seen him about a year or a year and a half ago. She would see him often when he came to her apartment complex to visit someone in an upstairs apartment. When Munoz showed Ramirez a photographic lineup including Duarte's picture, she was unable to identify anyone.

Two days after the shooting, Munoz observed Duarte seated in a vehicle that was parked next to a midnight blue four-door car with a license plate of "5DYZ718." Duarte's head was shaved, and he had "S.S.H.B." tattooed on the side of his head. When Munoz contacted Duarte, Munoz asked him if he had been at the Amberleaf location at the time of the shooting, and if the midnight blue car belonged to him. Initially, Duarte denied being present at the Amberleaf location on the day of the shooting, but admitted the car belonged to him. Later, Duarte disclosed he had been there looking for a group of AML members who had been bothering his younger brother. Duarte explained he had driven the midnight blue four-door Impala to Amberleaf but denied being involved in the shooting. Duarte advised Munoz that at the time the shooting took place he was filling out some job applications.

Ramirez testified at trial but said the only reason she was testifying was because she had been subpoenaed. She recounted that she and others in the neighborhood would not speak with Munoz because people in her neighborhood do not like to talk to police. She testified she was afraid to talk to Munoz and take his business card. Ramirez testified she had seen a bald man in a white T-shirt with writing on his neck holding a black object in his hand. She claimed she could not tell what the black object was, and denied telling Munoz it was a gun. As to the specifics of the description she gave Munoz, Ramirez at times claimed to not remember. Alternatively, she altered the description she provided Munoz rendering it less detailed. Ramirez said she did not recall if she had told Munoz the man she had seen was Duarte, who she had known for six or seven years. Contrary to what she told Munoz about seeing Duarte on numerous occasions prior to the incident, Ramirez claimed to have only seen Duarte one time. Ramirez also claimed to recall identifying someone in the lineup, who was not Duarte, as looking familiar to her.

Munoz testified he knew Duarte from previous contacts but had never arrested him. He described Duarte as having been heavier in the past but that the shaved head and tattoo on the side of his head were consistent with Munoz's past observations of Duarte. Munoz was aware of only two other SSHB members with similar tattoos and both were in custody at the time of the incident. Munoz also testified as to statements Ramirez made to him the night of the incident that were inconsistent with her testimony at trial.

Huntington Beach Detective Arthur Preece testified as a gang expert. He testified that gang tattoos demonstrate a member's pride in the gang and a member's permanent allegiance to the gang. He opined committing crimes, especially with a gun, garners respect for the offender or his gang and serves to intimidate potential witnesses from cooperating with law enforcement. Throughout his 22-year career with the Huntington Beach Police Department, Preece had interacted with members of the SSHB gang. He testified the gang had been in existence for more than 30 years and was an ongoing organization with about 70 members. He described SSHB's primary activities, pattern of criminal activity, and common names and symbols. He further testified as to the commission of two predicate crimes by the gang to establish SSHB was a criminal street gang as defined in section 186.22, subdivision (f).

With respect to Duarte's involvement in the gang, Preece described Duarte's continued association with known SSHB members dating back to 2001, and opined Duarte was an active member of SSHB on the date of the incident. Preece testified Duarte's moniker was "Big Time," and he had a number of SSHB gang-related tattoos, including "S.S.H.B." on the side of his head. Based on a hypothetical mirroring the facts of the incident, Preece opined the crime was committed for the benefit of SSHB.

Prior to Preece testifying, Duarte sought permission to impeach Preece with information he had destroyed traffic tickets to prevent prosecution. Duarte's defense counsel advised the court he had received information from the prosecutor in an unrelated case that on approximately four or five occasions over a seven-to-eight-year period, Preece kept routine traffic tickets from being put into the system. Counsel cited an affidavit Preece had prepared for an unrelated case. In it, Preece declared there were no copies of the tickets he had destroyed, or any reports relating to the destruction of the tickets. Preece also stated he had no recollection of conversations with other officers regarding his actions with regard to the tickets. Duarte asserted he did not know exactly what keeping routine traffic tickets from being put into the system entailed. He questioned whether this meant Preece directed another officer to pull a ticket before it was filed. Or did Preece go to the file room, or wherever ...

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