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People v. Hall

August 9, 2010


APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County. Robert J. Perry, Judge. Affirmed. (Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. MA032340).

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


On June 18, 2005, Christopher Anthony Hall fled police in a vehicle pursuit which resulted in the deaths of Lillian Arrevalo, and 16-year-old Brian McWright. A jury convicted appellant Hall of multiple counts, including second degree murder, assault upon a peace officer, and driving under the influence causing injury. Hall contends the trial court committed reversible error by: (1) admitting testimony regarding the blood-alcohol level of a blood sample over his chain of custody objection, and (2) denying his motion for a new trial based on newly discovered evidence. We affirm.


Prosecution Case

1. Incidents Prior to the Pursuit

On June 17, 2005 or on June 18, 2005, Hall entered a store, grabbed two cases of beer and a bottle of rum, and left without paying.*fn1 The storeowner followed him and saw Hall enter a large motor home and drive off.

On June 18, 2005 at about 1:00 p.m., California Highway Patrol Officer Jerry Nelson responded to a traffic collision. Officer Nelson arrived at the location and found Hall and his wife, Michelle Hall, standing next to a damaged El Camino. When Officer Nelson asked if anyone was injured, Hall and his wife stated they had no injuries. Hall had a strong odor of alcohol and was unsteady on his feet. With slurred speech, Hall admitted to Officer Nelson that he had been drinking alcohol that day. Hall appeared fully conscious and answered Officer Nelson's questions appropriately. Hall and Michelle told Officer Nelson that Michelle had been driving the El Camino. Since the El Camino could not be driven, Officer Nelson called for a tow truck over Hall's objections. Eventually, the tow truck arrived and took the car along with Hall and his wife.

2. The Police Pursuit

That same day, at about 4:00 p.m., Hall was driving a motor home and cut off two cars that were leaving a gas station, forcing the drivers to slam on their brakes in order to avoid colliding with the motor home. Hall continued driving at about 50 miles per hour in the far right lane and suddenly swerved into the left lane, clipping the left bumper of a car driven by Lillian Arrevalo. Arrevalo's car crashed into a light pole; Arrevalo was killed. Shortly after striking Arrevalo's car, Hall pushed a truck out of a left turn lane and struck the rear side of another car. Some time after the collisions, Deputy Sheriff Brian Hickey activated the lights and siren of his marked patrol car and began pursuit of the motor home. Hall did not stop and drove through numerous intersections with stop signs.

At one point, Hall pulled over to the shoulder of the road. Deputy Hickey got out of his car, drew his weapon, and ordered Hall to exit the motor home. About thirty seconds later, Hall drove away and Deputy Hickey continued pursuit. A short time later, Hall stopped again and Deputy Hickey observed "what appeared to [be] banging" on the driver's side door "like somebody was trying to get out." Once more, Hall drove off but then stopped. The driver's side door flew open and Hall's wife got out of the motor home. At this time, Deputy Hickey said over the PA: "it's not worth anybody else getting hurt. Just stop the motor home." Hall made eye contact with Deputy Hickey, yelled, "fuck you, fuck you, fuck you" and drove away.

After driving for about a mile, Hall stopped in the middle of the road. Five or six marked Sheriff's patrol cars had been pursuing Hall and also stopped across the two-lane road. About a minute later, Hall made a U-turn and accelerated toward the deputies. The deputies ran to their cars for cover. Hall swerved the motor home to squeeze through an eight to 10 feet gap between the patrol cars but did not strike the deputies or their cars. The deputies continued pursuit. At one point, a marked patrol car carrying three deputies was caught in front of the motor home and made a fast right turn to avoid being struck by the motor home.

The motor home remained in the southbound lane of the road but repeatedly straddled the lane. As the pursuit continued, deputies reached an average speed of 90 miles per hour. At the upcoming intersection, a deputy sheriff attempted to clear the intersection because the motor home was approaching. Without slowing down or attempting to avoid the stopped vehicles, Hall entered the intersection and rear-ended a green car. The motor home continued on, hitting the side of a patrol car. Eventually, the motor home hit a small car, flipped on its side and slid to a stop on the asphalt.

Four people were in the green car; three of them escaped the collision relatively unscathed. The fourth, 16-year-old Brian McWright was trapped in the car and personnel had to remove the roof in order to extricate him. McWright later died from injuries suffered in the collision.

3. Hall's Arrest and Statements

Deputies arrested Hall and placed him in the back seat of a patrol car. Without inquiry from the deputies, Hall spontaneously stated: "I'm sorry sir. I know I killed that lady on 47th Street. I fucked up. That's why I was running." He cried uncontrollably and repeatedly said he was sorry. Sometime later, Deputy Sheriff Thomas Bruner arrived at the scene and told Hall he was being taken to the hospital to have his blood drawn and then to the jail to be booked. Hall did not want to be moved and became agitated and uncooperative.

Subsequently, Hall told Deputy Bruner that his wife had been driving the motor home but then admitted he was driving when the collisions occurred.*fn2 Hall also told Deputy Bruner that he drank five Budweiser beers earlier in the day and that he was "tanked." Deputy Bruner noticed the smell of alcohol emitting from Hall. Hall further stated that he was HIV-positive and that he had last eaten "two weeks ago" because he had not been hungry. Hall also said that he had not suffered any head injuries.

4. The Hospital

Deputy Bruner and his partner took Hall to the hospital to ensure he was "O.K. to book" and to have his blood drawn.*fn3 Despite being told he was going to be booked for murder, Hall was nonchalant. While in the hospital, Hall was irritable and agitated with the way the hospital staff treated him and with the fact that the deputies had handcuffed him to a chair. Medical personnel evaluated Hall and made him sign paperwork for the release of his blood. At trial, Deputy Bruner testified that blood was drawn from Hall; an entry on an evidence envelope reflects that the blood was drawn at 6:15 p.m.

5. Investigation and Suicide Attempt

At about 7:30 p.m., deputies "Mirandized" and interviewed Hall. When asked about the collisions, Hall stated he could not remember anything because of the bump on his head. When asked why he did not pull over, Hall answered that he was afraid because the deputies were pointing guns at him. Hall admitted drinking three beers during the day. The next day, on June 19, 2005, while in the Inmate Reception Center, Hall wrapped a sheet around his neck and tied the sheet to the railing of the second floor. Hall then leaped over the railing but deputies were able to foil the suicide attempt and took him to see a nurse. Hall denied ever receiving mental health treatment.

On June 21, 2005, deputies "Mirandized" and interviewed Hall again. Again, Hall told the deputies he could not remember the events of June 18, 2005. Hall said he had previously been arrested twice for driving under the influence and knew the consequences of drinking and driving. A subsequent search of the motor home revealed two unopened cases of beer and an opened bottle of rum. About a cup of rum was missing from the bottle.

Defense Case

Hall testified in his own defense: Hall could only remember some of the June 18, 2005 incidents. Hall stated that he was driving when the El Camino collision occurred and his head hit the car's left side window and windshield. Hall remembered everything before June 18, 2005, but had a ...

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