Riverside County Super. Ct. No.RIF113459
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Werdegar, J.
We hold here that the intent element of robbery does not include an intent to apply force against the victim or to cause the victim to feel fear. It is robbery if the defendant committed a forcible act against the victim motivated by the intent to steal, even if the defendant did not also intend for the victim to experience force or fear. We also hold a trial court has no obligation to provide a sua sponte instruction on accident where, as here, the defendant's theory of accident is an attempt to negate the intent element of the charged crime.
Defendant Paul D. Anderson is a longtime methamphetamine addict. As of the time of the crimes at issue here, he had been out of work for a year, was separated from his wife, had neither a job nor a car, and was living on the streets or spending nights in the homes of other methamphetamine users. He obtained money by breaking into cars, sometimes by means of a shaved key, and stealing things. He used stolen credit cards and sometimes tried to pass forged checks. He had once stolen a car. Defendant's criminal history does not appear to have involved any act of force or violence directed against his victims.
Defendant spent the morning and afternoon of November 7, 2003, at the home of Ginger Lyle, a drug dealer, where he smoked methamphetamine and socialized with Lyle and several other users. After leaving Lyle's home, he went to an apartment complex a few blocks away, later stating he went with the intention of finding a car to steal so he could visit his wife and children.
On November 7, 19-year-old Pamela Thompson came home from work around 9:00 p.m. She parked her car in the apartment complex's carport and went to her apartment to change her clothing before going out, leaving her purse in the car. In the meantime, defendant entered the complex looking for a car he could enter with his key. After failing to break into several cars, defendant successfully opened the door to Pamela's car, started it, and attempted to drive out of the complex. After discovering the gate to the complex did not open automatically, defendant backed the car into a parking space to wait for someone else to open the gate. By this time, Pamela had discovered her car was gone. She telephoned her stepfather, Joe Deitz, asking if he had taken it. When he said he had not, she told him the car had been stolen. Pamela also called her mother, Barbara Thompson, telling her the car had been stolen and she was looking for it. After they spoke for a few minutes, Barbara heard Pamela say, loudly, "Oh, my God. Here comes my car real fast." The phone went silent. A moment later Barbara's telephone indicated someone was on another line. It was Joe, calling for information about the car. Barbara told him something had happened to Pamela out at the gate. Joe ran to the gate where he found Pamela lying in a puddle of blood on the street near the drive that led into the apartment complex. Pamela was still conscious, but was struggling for breath and stopped breathing shortly after Joe found her. Joe performed CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) until paramedics arrived. Pamela never regained consciousness and died a few days later. She had suffered multiple blunt-force traumas resulting in multiple skull and rib fractures, injuries consistent with having been crushed by a car traveling the length of her body.
Witnesses reported hearing the sound of a car and a female voice in what seemed to be an argument that went on for perhaps 20-30 seconds. The voice shouted "Stop!" three times, after which there was a very loud thump and the shouting stopped. The witnesses heard the car accelerate, but were not certain whether the acceleration occurred before or after the thump. They heard the car's tires screech as it left the complex.
Defendant had run over Pamela. He did not deny hitting her, but claimed it was an accident. He stated he saw the gate to the complex open to admit a car. After the car passed, he drove toward the gate, which began to close. He drove quickly around the gate, estimating his speed at 25-30 miles per hour. He claimed he had not heard anyone shout, explaining the car's windows were closed. He stated he had kept his head down as he was driving, theorizing that for that reason, and because it was night and the gate obscured his vision, he had not seen anything until he looked up and saw Pamela standing just outside the gate, approximately 10-12 feet from him, with her hand up. He swerved, explaining he did not think he could stop in time. Defendant admitted feeling an impact, stating he thought he might have struck the girl, but he also thought it was possible she had hit the side of the car or he had gone up over the curb. He was frightened, did not stop to see if he had injured anyone, and drove away without looking back. Defendant maintained he had not intended to run over, injure, or frighten anyone. He had been thinking about getting away and had not contemplated the possibility that someone might be on the other side of the gate.
Defendant quickly abandoned the car, but took from it a credit card and driver's license belonging to Pamela. He was arrested several days later after having used the credit card several times.
Defendant was convicted, following a jury trial, of first degree felony murder with the special circumstance of killing during the course of a robbery (Pen. Code, §§ 187, 190.2, subd. (a)(17)(A)), robbery (id., § 211), and receipt of stolen property (id., § 496, subd. (a)). He appealed, arguing that the trial court erred by failing to provide a sua sponte instruction on accident as a defense to the crime of robbery, thus requiring reversal not only of his robbery conviction, but also of his conviction of first degree felony murder and the special circumstance.*fn1 The Court of Appeal agreed. We reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeal.
Robbery is defined as "the felonious taking of personal property in the possession of another, from his person or immediate presence, and against his will, accomplished by means of force or fear." (Pen. Code, § 211.) Robbery is larceny with the aggravating circumstances that "the property is taken from the person or presence of another" and "is accomplished by the use of force or by putting the victim in fear of injury." (People v. Gomez (2008) 43 Cal.4th 249, 254, fn. 2.) In California, "[t]he crime of robbery is a continuing offense that begins from the time of the original taking until the robber reaches a place of relative safety." (People v. Estes (1983) 147 Cal.App.3d 23, 28.) It thus is robbery when the property was peacefully acquired, but force or fear was used to carry it away. (Gomez, at pp. 255-256.)
"As a general rule, no crime is committed unless there is a union of act and either wrongful intent or criminal negligence. [Citations.] This rule, which is 'firmly embedded' in ' "the principles of Anglo-American criminal jurisprudence" ' [citation] is so basic that wrongful intent or criminal negligence 'is an invariable element of every crime unless excluded expressly or by necessary implication' [citations] and 'penal statutes will often be construed to contain such an element despite their failure expressly to state it' [citations]." (People v. King (2006) 38 Cal.4th 617, 622-623; and see Pen. Code, § 20 ["In every crime or public offense there must exist a union, or joint operation of act and intent, or criminal negligence."].) The intent required for robbery has been described as the specific intent to deprive the victim of the property permanently. (People v. Huggins (2006) 38 Cal.4th 175, 214; People v. Guerra (1985) 40 Cal.3d 377, 385.) Thus, "the act of force or intimidation by which the taking is accomplished in robbery must be motivated by the intent to steal . . . ." (People v. Green (1980) 27 Cal.3d 1, 54.)
Defendant concedes he committed a forcible act against Pamela, killing her, and that the act was motivated by his intent to steal Pamela's property. But he argues the forcible taking was not robbery unless he applied the force with the intent to strike or frighten Pamela. He cites People v. Bolden (2002) 29 Cal.4th 515, where we recognized that the standard jury instructions adequately explain that "for the crime of robbery the defendant must form the intent to steal before or during rather than after the application of force to the victim, and that the defendant must apply the force for the purpose of accomplishing the taking." (Id. at p. 556, italics added.) But we were not there concerned with whether the defendant intended to harm the victim, and our explanation that it is not robbery if the intent to steal is formed only after ...