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The People v. Ceron Hill

February 4, 2011


Super. Ct. No. 06F02697

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Robie,j.

P. v. Hill CA3


California Rules of Court, rule 8.1115(a), prohibits courts and parties from citing or relying on opinions not certified for publication or ordered published, except as specified by rule 8.1115(b). This opinion has not been certified for publication or ordered published for purposes of rule 8.1115.

A jury found defendant Ceron Hill guilty of murdering Jack Lawrence by personally discharging a firearm. Defendant admitted he committed the murder while released from custody on another offense. The court sentenced him to two terms of 25 years to life plus a consecutive two years in prison.

Defendant appeals, raising issues of police coercion, instructional error, juror misconduct and tampering, prosecutorial misconduct, and sufficiency of the evidence. Finding these issues either forfeited or unmeritorious, we affirm.



The Prosecution

On the morning of March 15, 2006, Lawrence visited his friend Stanley Edwards at Edwards's apartment on Mack Road. Edwards was in the process of waking up, so Lawrence went across the street to the donut shop. Edwards was planning on joining Lawrence 15 minutes later.

The donut shop was located on Mack Road in a strip mall. Also in the strip mall was a Metro phone store. Going to the phone store that morning was one of Lawrence's childhood friends, Christopher Stone (Chris).*fn1 On his way to the store, Chris saw a white car that was traveling slowly past the donut shop and making multiple U-turns. Defendant, who was known as "Dooty," was a passenger in the car.

At the strip mall, Chris, who was sometimes mistaken for his brother Donald, saw Lawrence walking to the donut shop. The two started talking. Lawrence told Chris, "'Be cool. Doo[ty] out here.'"

Lawrence, Chris, and Donald were all affiliated with a gang called Bad Ass Youngsters or BAY. Defendant was not. Three weeks prior, defendant had approached Donald at a Chevron station and said he had heard that Donald and his partner "Poppa" were the ones who had shot at defendant in an earlier incident. Defendant then pulled out a gun and started shooting in the air. Since then, according to Chris, defendant had "been trying to get all [Chris's] partners from [BAY]."

Chris told Lawrence that he needed to go to the Metro store and would be right back. Chris saw the car again, driving "hella slower."

Chris finished his business at the Metro store, and as he was walking back to the donut shop, he heard three gun shots. Chris and Lawrence ran. Chris looked back and saw the shooter's profile. The shooter was defendant.

Lawrence collapsed as he was running. Chris ran to him and saw that Lawrence had been shot in the chest. Chris told Edwards, who had come to the scene from his apartment, "'Dooty did it.'" Chris heard another four gunshots and saw defendant "[b]ounce[]" in the white car. Lawrence died that day.

Chris and Edwards were interviewed by police. Edwards told police that when he had asked Chris who shot Lawrence, Chris told him, "'Dooty did it.'" When Chris was interviewed, he initially told Detective Scott MacLafferty he did not know who did it and he had told Edwards, "some dude shot [Lawrence]." As the interview progressed, Chris admitted to MacLafferty he had seen the white car with defendant inside and defendant shot Lawrence. At trial, Chris testified he did not personally know Dooty, and he implicated Dooty in the interview so the police would let him (Chris) go.

On March 22, 2006, defendant was arrested. He had another man's identification card on him. A search of defendant's bedroom revealed three bags containing shoes and clothes stacked by the bedroom door "like they were getting ready for someone to leave."

The next day Detective MacLafferty interviewed one of defendant's girlfriends, Lashawna Dees. She told MacLafferty defendant had told her "'something bad happened in Sacramento'" and he was going to Atlanta. Dees told her best friend, Stashaun Lewis, defendant wanted to leave town because he had shot someone. For Lewis's safety, the district attorney's office relocated her. The relocation expenses totaled approximately $27,000, all of which, except for $1,695 in per diem expenses, was paid directly to the service providers.


The Defense

Jennifer Carroll, who had lived in the Mack Road area for 27 years, saw the shooting. After she learned that Lawrence died, she contacted police. She was shown a photographic lineup of suspects that included defendant, but she did not identify any of them as the shooter. At trial, she remained "confident" that defendant was not the shooter.



Defendant Forfeited The Right To Argue On Appeal That Chris's Statements To Police Were Coerced

Defendant contends his conviction must be reversed because "the police led, badgered and coerced witness Chris Stone into inculpating [defendant]" and therefore use of these coerced statements violated his Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

Defendant did not object to the introduction of Chris's out-of-court statements in the trial court on the grounds that his statements were coerced. He has therefore forfeited this contention on appeal. (People v. Kennedy (2005) 36 Cal.4th 595, 611-612 [failure to object on grounds of coercion barred review of the claim that coerced testimony was erroneously admitted at trial], overruled on other grounds in People v. Williams (2010) 49 Cal.4th 405, 458-459; People v. Ray (1996) 13 Cal.4th 313, 339 [where defendant did not raise in the trial court a claim his confession was involuntary, the claim was "waived"]; Evid. Code, § 353 [a judgment will not be reversed for the erroneous admission of evidence unless there was a specific objection to the evidence in the trial court].)

Defendant relies on older authority to argue "the issue is reviewable," citing the following four cases: People v. Millum (1954) 42 Cal.2d 524; People v. Underwood (1964) 61 Cal.2d 113; In re Cameron (1968) 68 Cal.2d 487; and People v Cahill (1994) 22 Cal.App.4th 296. These cases do not help defendant.

In Millum, the court ruled a defendant may assert the involuntariness of a confession on appeal where a timely objection had not been made, if the "uncontradicted" evidence by the state disclosed that the "attendant circumstances and methods of procurement of the confession" amounted to conduct that would make the use of the confession a denial of due process. (People v. Millum, supra, 42 Cal.2d at p. 527.)

In Underwood, the court reversed a criminal conviction based on the prejudicial introduction of involuntary statements made by the defendant and a witness. (People v. Underwood, supra, 61 Cal.2d at p. 126.) Trial counsel had not objected, but this did not preclude consideration of the issue on appeal. (Id. at p. 126.) The evidence was "uncontroverted" the statements were coerced, and "special policy considerations preclude[d] the use of involuntary statements," including that their admission would have been "offensive to the community's sense of fair play and decency," and their exclusion "would [have] serve[d] to discourage the use of improper pressures during the questioning of persons in regard to crimes." (Id. at pp. 124, 126.)

In Cameron, the court held the defendant could raise the involuntariness of his confession for the first time by habeas petition where the involuntariness appeared "as a matter of law," and where the defendant's failure to raise it on direct appeal was excusable because he risked receiving the death penalty if found guilty on retrial. (In re Cameron, supra, 68 Cal.2d at pp. 490-492, 503.)

In Cahill, the court rejected a "waiver" argument to taped statements where there was a notation in the clerk's minutes that an objection immediately preceded the playing of the tapes and the "'special policy considerations'" noted in Underwood precluded use of the involuntary statements. (People v. Cahill, supra, 22 Cal.App.4th at p. 309, fn. 3.)

These cases do not apply here because the evidence was not uncontroverted that Chris's statements were coerced*fn2 and, in any event, Kennedy impliedly called into question the holdings of these earlier cases when it held that the defendant had forfeited his involuntariness argument. The court did not mention any of these cases and it quoted In re Seaton (2004) 34 Cal.4th 193, 198, a case involving other types of constitutional challenges, for the proposition that the requirement of trial objections applies not only to "'claims based on statutory violations,'" but also to those "'based on violations of fundamental constitutional rights.'" (People v. Kennedy, supra, 36 Cal.4th at p. 612.) The court declared, "This rule applies equally to any claim on appeal that the evidence was erroneously admitted, other than the stated ground for the objection at trial." (Ibid.)

Following Kennedy, we conclude defendant has forfeited his challenge on appeal to the introduction of Chris's statements based on alleged police coercion.


Defendant's Claims Of Instructional Error Are Either Forfeited Or Unmeritorious

Defendant makes six claims of instructional error. We consider each in turn, rejecting all based on either a failure to make a request for the instruction in the trial court or a lack of merit to the claim.


The Trial Court Had No Sua Sponte Duty To Instruct On Coerced Statements

Defendant contends the court should have instructed sua sponte on Chris's coerced statements. Defendant's argument lacks merit because the factual ...

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