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People v. Petrilli

California Court of Appeals, First District, First Division

May 28, 2014

THE PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent,
STEVEN PETRILLI, Defendant and Appellant.


San Francisco City and Superior Court County, No. 204890-01/02362614 Hon. Newton J. Lam J.

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Janice M. Lagerlof, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Defendant and Appellant.

Kamala D. Harris, Attorney General, Dane R. Gillette and Gerald A. Engler, Assistant Attorneys General, Catherine A. Rivlin and Allen R. Crown, Deputy Attorneys General for Plaintiff and Respondent.


Margulies, Acting P.J.

Late one night, defendant Steven Petrilli drove a stolen minivan around San Francisco with his wife and two acquaintances. The acquaintances periodically left the van, committed a robbery, and returned to the van. Once they were back inside, defendant drove away. After the fourth such robbery, police spotted the van, and defendant drove off at a high speed. The subsequent pursuit ended when defendant rammed the van into a police car, killing a police officer in the car. Defendant was convicted of felony murder with special circumstances, as well as four counts of robbery and other crimes.

Defendant contends, and the Attorney General concedes, that the felony murder conviction must be reversed because of instructional error. We agree.

Defendant also contends the trial court erred in admitting the testimony of his wife. She had earlier testified under subpoena before a grand jury investigating the incident, and when she sought to invoke the spousal testimonial privilege to avoid testifying at trial, the trial court ruled she had waived the privilege by appearing before the grand jury. Applying the plain language of Evidence Code[1] section 973, which governs waiver of the spousal testimonial privilege, we conclude a spouse’s testimony before a grand jury does not waive his or her subsequent assertion of the spousal testimonial privilege at a criminal trial. We further conclude the admission of defendant’s wife’s testimony was prejudicial in connection with three of defendant’s four robbery convictions. We accordingly reverse defendant’s convictions for special circumstance murder, conspiracy to commit robbery, and three counts of robbery, but we affirm the remainder of defendant’s convictions.


Defendant and two others were charged in an indictment, filed April 4, 2008, with special circumstance murder, committed in the course of a

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robbery. (Pen. Code, §§ 187, 190.2, subd. (a)(17)(A); count I.) The three were also charged with implied malice second degree murder alleged to be a serious felony (Pen. Code, §§ 187, 1192.7, subd. (c)(1); count II); conspiracy to commit robbery (Pen. Code, § 182, subd. (a)(1); count III); four counts of robbery, all alleged to be serious and violent felonies (Pen. Code, §§ 211, 667.5, subd. (c); 1192.7, subd. (c); counts IV, V, VI, VII); evading a police officer and causing serious bodily injury (Veh. Code, § 2800.3, subd. (a); count VIII); and vehicular manslaughter (Pen. Code, § 192, subd. (c)(1); count IX). Defendant alone was charged with driving a stolen vehicle. (Veh. Code, § 10851, subd. (a); count X.)

Defendant was tried separately from his two codefendants. Witnesses testified to four separate robberies in San Francisco on the night of July 26, and the early morning of July 27, 2006. Although the details varied, each robbery was committed by two African-American men. Following each robbery, the men entered a minivan, and the van drove away. The victim of the first robbery said a third person was driving the van, but he was unable to provide any identifying information about the driver. The two victims of the second robbery were unable to see the driver of the van at all. A witness to the third robbery saw a man driving the van, but she, too, was unable to provide any further information about him. Two of these witnesses saw a woman in the passenger seat of the van.

The victim of the fourth robbery was able to confront the driver of the van, whom the victim identified as defendant. When defendant threatened him, the victim attempted to kick defendant’s face through the open window, but defendant drove the van away. This victim called 911, and two officers arrived in a patrol car within five minutes. After some questions, the police asked the victim to ride with them in an attempt to locate the van, and the three drove off. The victim eventually spotted a van similar to the one involved in his robbery in the drive-through lane of a McDonald’s restaurant. When the officers checked the license plate of the van, they learned it had been reported as stolen. After the patrol car made a U-turn and activated its lights, the van left the drive-through lane, drove over a curb, and took off at high speed. The patrol car followed. The victim saw defendant in the driver’s seat.

A reckless, high-speed chase ensued, on and off the highway, involving several police cars. Eventually, the van left the highway and, at high speed, ran into a patrol car stopped in an intersection, flipping the patrol car. The van then ...

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