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People v. Sanders

September 22, 2010


APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County. William R. Chidsey, Judge. Affirmed in part; reversed in part and remanded. (Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. TA081670).

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

Opinion following order vacating prior opinion


Appellant Donald Sanders shot two men, Joel M. and Joel's father, Rodney M., during a fight at a party of the Rare Breed Motorcycle Club (Rare Breed). We will refer to the victims as Joel and Rodney, to avoid confusion. They survived and testified against appellant, as did a third eyewitness, Lanny T. (Lanny). Appellant was convicted of two counts of attempted murder and two counts of assault with a firearm, plus firearms discharge and great bodily injury enhancements. He was sentenced to 64 years to life in prison.

Rodney and Lanny knew appellant, and they identified him as one of two shooters. Joel did not see who shot him, but he saw appellant running toward him before he was shot. As to the other shooter (S-1), Joel and Lanny erroneously selected another man, Johnny C., when they were shown a six-pack photographic lineup (six-pack). They corrected that mistake when they saw Johnny in a live lineup. Johnny was dismissed from the case prior to appellant's trial, and no one was tried as S-1. On the other hand, all three eyewitnesses were positive that appellant was one of the two shooters.

Appellant contends that his federal constitutional rights to due process of law and to confront and cross-examine witnesses were violated because the trial court did not strike all of Lanny's testimony or grant a motion for mistrial after Lanny refused to disclose the names of club members who approached him after the shootings and gave him information about S-1's identity. Appellant also contends that the trial court erred in imposing sentence. We agree that the sentence is erroneous and remand with directions to enter a sentence that conforms to law. In all other respects, the judgment is affirmed.


1. Prosecution Evidence

A. Background

Lanny was one of the cofounders of Rare Breed when the motorcycle club began in 1989. He was still active in the club in 2005, when the incident occurred. The club had over 100 members at that time. Some of them were law enforcement officers, and some were members of the Crips and Bloods street gangs.

Starting at 3:00 p.m. on September 11, 2005, Rare Breed held a huge party in Gardena to celebrate the grand opening of its clubhouse. The party was open to the public and to the members of various motorcycle clubs. Food and beverages, including alcoholic drinks, were served. There was music and dancing inside the clubhouse, and motorcycles were displayed outside.

B. Joel's Description of the Incident

Joel, who was in his mid-20's, was not a member of Rare Breed, but his father, Rodney, had been a member for years. Joel and Rodney assisted with providing and serving the food and beverages during the party. At some point, Joel noticed appellant, a bald-headed guest who was talking with other guests. Appellant was of Rodney's generation. Joel had never seen him before.

Around 10:30 or 11:00 p.m., the party was winding down. Joel, Lanny, Joel's girlfriend, and a female cousin of Joel's were among the 10 or so people still inside the club room. Joel was sweeping the floor. He had drunk alcoholic beverages during the party, but he did not consider himself drunk. He heard an unidentified man (S-1) say the word "blood" and use loud, profane language to the two young women. S-1 was accompanied by an unidentified companion, S-2. Like Joel, S-1 and S-2 were young males in their mid-20's.

The club room was separated from the bar room by a wall that had a door and a window through which drinks were passed. Rodney came into the club room from the bar room and said something to S-1 and S-2. Joel told S-1 the women were his girlfriend and cousin, and there was no need for hostility. He offered to get drinks for S-1 and S-2. S-1 responded with a profane insult. He hiked "up his pants with his fists" and stepped toward Joel as if preparing to fight. Joel was five feet seven inches tall and weighed 148 pounds. S-1 was much larger than that. Joel decided he had better hit first. He struck S-1, who fell to the ground on his back. Joel got on top of S-1 and repeatedly hit him in the face.

Although Joel's attention was focused on S-1, he saw appellant approach him quickly from the "left front." Within seconds, Joel was lifted up from behind and shot in the chest. He did not see who shot him and did not know how close appellant was to him at that time. He fell to the ground, heard more gunshots, and saw Rodney hunched over with his hands on his stomach.

Joel spent several weeks in the hospital recovering from three gunshot wounds. He did not recall receiving the second and third shot. The first shot, to the middle of his chest, caused a collapsed lung. The second shot hit his thigh and testicles. The third shot went across his forehead. While he was in the hospital, he was shown two six-packs by Detective Pohl. He circled appellant's photo in one six-pack because he recognized appellant as the person who approached him before he was shot. From the other six-pack he selected another man as S-1.

After Joel and Rodney left the hospital, they drove together to see two live lineups. While en route, Rodney told Joel that the wrong man might have been selected as S-1. The six-packs had shown only faces, but the live lineups showed entire people. At the first live lineup, which included Johnny, Joel did not identify anyone as S-1. All the men in that lineup were approximately his size, but S-1 was much bigger. At the second live lineup, which included appellant, Joel again identified appellant.

C. Rodney's Description of the Incident

As the party was ending, Rodney was cleaning up in the bar room when he heard arguing in the club room. Leaning out the drinks window, he saw that S-1 and S-2, whom he had never seen before, were speaking disrespectfully to Joel's cousin and his girlfriend. S-1 and S-2 became more aggressive when he offered them drinks. He left the bar area, went into the club room, and spoke with them. At some point, one of them said "blood" or "Blood, blood," which could be a gang communication. Joel approached and told S-1 and S-2 that the women were his girlfriend and cousin. S-1 cursed and said he did not care. Lanny, who was nearby, attempted "to calm them down." Joel started fighting with S-1 and pinned him to the ground. Rodney grabbed S-2 and hit him in the head, as it looked like S-2 also wanted to fight.

At that point, Rodney saw appellant, whom he knew as "Duck," a member of another motorcycle club. Rodney had previously noticed appellant at the party. He first met appellant two years earlier at another Rare Breed dance and had seen him at other motorcycle group functions since then. Rodney thought appellant would help him to stop the younger men from fighting. Instead, appellant lifted up Joel from the back of the neck and shoulders and shot him in the chest.

Rodney charged at appellant, trying to save his son. Appellant pointed the gun at Rodney and fired. Rodney did not realize he had been shot. He kept moving toward appellant, heard another shot, and felt a bullet hit his knee. Falling to one knee, he saw that S-1 had risen from the ground and fired another gun, which then jammed. Appellant grabbed S-1 and ran outside with him. Rodney started to follow them, became aware that he was wounded in the stomach, and collapsed. He spent almost three months in the hospital and needed several operations.

Once Rodney was able to communicate at the hospital, Detective Pohl visited him and showed him a six-pack. Rodney circled appellant's photo on the six-pack and wrote, "He shot me." He was positive about that identification, as he knew appellant.

At the trial, Rodney also testified that he selected Johnny as S-1 when he was shown the other six-pack. Detective Pohl's testimony showed that Rodney was confused about that point. Pohl did not show Rodney the six-pack with Johnny's photo because Rodney told Pohl he focused his attention on appellant and did not believe he could identify the other gunman. Joel and Lanny, but not Rodney, identified Johnny as S-1 from the six-pack that contained Johnny's photo.

Rodney further testified that, after he was released from the hospital, the "older guys" in the neighborhood told him that the wrong person had been identified as S-1, as Johnny did not attend the party. Rodney wanted to be absolutely sure, to avoid having an innocent person incarcerated. People in the neighborhood also told him that his identification of appellant was wrong, but he rejected that information because he was acquainted with appellant and knew he had seen him.

Rodney told Joel prior to the live lineups that the six-pack identifications of S-1 might be incorrect. At the live lineups, Rodney did not recognize anyone in the first lineup, but he again selected appellant from the second lineup. He had no feud or "beef" with appellant prior to the shooting.

D. Detective Pohl

Detective Pohl obtained descriptions of the incident from Rodney, Joel and Lanny. Rodney told Pohl that appellant shot him, he had spoken with appellant at previous motorcycle events, appellant was known as "Duck," and he belonged to a motorcycle club called "Divided Times." When Pohl showed the three witnesses the six-pack with appellant's photo, Rodney and Lanny identified appellant as one of the two shooters, and Joel said he had seen appellant at the party. Joel and Lanny identified Johnny as the other suspect, S-1, from the other six-pack. When Pohl told Rodney that a live lineup was scheduled, Rodney said there were concerns about the identifications of S-1, but not of appellant. At the live lineups, the three witnesses identified appellant, and none of them identified Johnny.

On cross-examination, after the court overruled the prosecutor's relevancy objections, Detective Pohl explained that he put Johnny's picture into a six-pack because (1) Rodney, Lanny and Joel told him that S-1 was a local Blood gang member known as "J"; and (2) he learned from police gang records and a confidential reliable informant that J or "J-Wac" was the gang name of Johnny, who belonged to a local Blood gang. After Pohl learned that Johnny was not S-1, Johnny was released, and Pohl never found out the real identity of S-1. Pohl tried to get club membership information from Lanny, but Lanny would not provide it.

E. Lanny's Description of the Incident

Lanny drank no alcoholic beverages at the party. He was in the club room cleaning up when he saw appellant, whom he knew, enter the room with S-1 and S-2, whom he did not know. Lanny and Rodney were the only club members in the building at that time. S-1 was tall and wore a red sports jersey. S-1 and S-2 said "blood" while speaking to each other. S-1 spoke offensively to the two young women ...

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