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The People v. Charles Sylvester Eaton

May 11, 2012

THE PEOPLE, PLAINTIFF AND RESPONDENT,
v.
CHARLES SYLVESTER EATON, DEFENDANT AND APPELLANT.



(Super. Ct. No. 10F02074)

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Robie , Acting P. J.

P. v. Eaton

CA3

NOT TO BE PUBLISHED

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 This opinion has not been certified for publication or ordered published for purposes of rule 8.1115.

This appeal raises one issue -- did the trial court abuse its discretion in denying a mistrial motion following a witness's testimony that mentioned defendant had been in prison? The answer is no: the comment was brief and isolated, the court gave an appropriate curative instruction, and the comment was insignificant compared to the facts at trial.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

A jury found defendant Charles Sylvester Eaton guilty of criminal threats and two counts each of corporal injury to a cohabitant and penetration with a foreign object. The facts behind these verdicts were as follows:

Defendant began dating the victim, J., in 2007 when both were homeless. They broke up later that year, and J. began dating other men.

In 2010, J. and defendant resumed their relationship and moved into a tent by a bridge. To be upfront, J. told defendant she had dated other men while they had been broken up. Defendant became upset at this revelation, and when he and J. were out together, he would order her to point out the men she had dated. When she complied, defendant would wait until he and J. got back to the tent and then would beat her up. One time he head-butted her, leaving a knot on her forehead. Defendant's violence came as a surprise to J. because he had not been violent with her in 2007.

About a week after the head-butting incident, defendant physically and sexually assaulted J. and threatened her because he thought she was lying when she said she presently was not seeing other men. He strangled her for 15 seconds, hit her with a bat, made her stick a banana into her vagina, and forced a bat up her rectum. He told her, "'When I'm done with you, you're going to be listening to me or you'll be dead.'"

The following morning, defendant made J. accompany him to a homeless shelter so he could sell marijuana. While there, defendant said he was hungry and demanded J. retrieve food for him from a part of the shelter reserved for women and children. While seemingly complying with his demand, J. told one of the shelter workers what defendant had done to her. The worker called police.

A Sacramento police officer responded to the call. When the officer was asked at trial by the prosecutor what J. had told the officer about why defendant assaulted J., the officer testified as follows: "[J.] stated that during the time [defendant] was in prison she had dated other men, and that when they reunited as a relationship shortly before the incident approximately two weeks prior, he would continuously ask her about the men she had dated."

Immediately following this testimony, defense counsel moved for a mistrial because this testimony violated an in limine ruling precluding disclosure of defendant's prior prison term. The court denied the motion, "given the overall context of this case and the totality of the evidence presented as to other aspects of the defendant's character." The court then instructed the jury as follows: "the last question and answer have been stricken by the Court. The responses are to be disregarded. You ...


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