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People v. Singh

California Court of Appeals, Third District, Sutter

March 6, 2015

THE PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent,
v.
CHARANDEEP SINGH, Defendant and Appellant.

APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Sutter County, No. CRF11-1759 Brian R. Aronson, Judge.

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COUNSEL

Thomas P. Owen, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Defendant and Appellant.

Kamala D. Harris, Attorney General, Dane R. Gillette, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Michael P. Farrell, Assistant Attorney General, Carlos A. Martinez and Daniel B. Bernstein, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

OPINION

BUTZ, J.

A jury found defendant Charandeep Singh guilty of felony vandalism, making criminal threats, and assault with a deadly weapon (a baseball bat); it was unable to reach a verdict with respect to counts alleging assault with a gun and brandishing a gun (as to which the trial court stated that it was “prepared” to declare a mistrial, although we do not find any reflection in the minutes of that action). The trial court sentenced defendant to state prison for four years eight months.

Defendant’s appeal centers on the prosecution’s successful motion contesting the exercise of defense counsel’s peremptory challenges as being premised on invidious group bias against Caucasian potential jurors. (As a result, we will omit any account of the facts underlying defendant’s convictions.) Defendant does not challenge the nature of the remedy that the trial court imposed (reseating the potential juror who had been the subject of the most recent defense peremptory challenge). Rather, defendant argues that the trial court erred in granting the prosecution’s motion, and further that this erroneous grant of the motion-coupled with a threat to impose sanctions against defense counsel for any further improper peremptory challenges-chilled his trial counsel’s advocacy during the rest of voir dire and accordingly resulted in an unfair trial. We shall affirm the judgment.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

After the initial voir dire of the original 18 prospective jurors (12 in the jury box and six seated in chairs in front of it), the parties stipulated to excusing a number of them for hardship or cause, and exercised four peremptory challenges. The trial court seated additional prospective jurors. After the parties stipulated to four more excusals for cause, Juror No. 416024 was among the replacements.

There was scant voir dire of Juror No. 416024. She had read “a little bit in the paper” about the case; she worked as a mechanic, was married (to a mill

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foreman), and had an adult daughter in nursing school. She had never served previously on a jury. She had been the victim of burglaries of her home (25 years ago) and her cars (twice in the past five years); the police had not apprehended anyone or recovered the property. This did not make her any more likely to convict defendant if she were otherwise not convinced of his guilt, and she would not mind having someone of her mindset sitting in judgment of her.

There was also brief voir dire of Juror No. 439656, who revealed that 40 years earlier she had been convicted of assault after a teenager slapped the juror’s small child; she paid a fine. She did not believe the experience would affect her deliberations, because she felt she deserved her punishment. Her husband had been a police officer about 50 years earlier (before she met him), which would not affect her evaluation of any police witnesses. She would be comfortable making credibility determinations if presented with conflicting testimony. After she mentioned that her two sons were both in prison, the parties conducted further private voir dire of Juror No. 439656 in chambers. One son had been convicted of burglaries, and the other for drug issues. She felt they both deserved this punishment, and it would not affect the manner in which she evaluated the case against defendant because she did not think that defendant should be punished regardless of his guilt. For reasons not apparent on the record, defense counsel and the trial court believed her responses merited concern short of cause to dismiss her. The trial court also denied a defense challenge for cause to a secretary with (as the trial court found) only an attenuated link to a Yuba County Superior Court judge against whom defense counsel had a standing peremptory challenge (as presiding judge she had convened a grand jury to indict him while he was pursuing an appointment to the Yuba County bench that she did not support (see Santana v. Superior Court (May 16, 2012, C066008) [nonpub. opn.] & related cases [issuing peremptory writ directing superior court to grant motion setting aside indictment]).

Reconvening in open court, the prosecutor exercised a peremptory challenge to one prospective juror and thereafter passed the jury for cause. Defense counsel first excused the secretary, and then five additional prospective jurors; the last of these was Juror No. 416024. During the course of these challenges, the prosecutor requested a sidebar conference. After the challenge to Juror No. 416024, the prosecutor again asked to address the court outside the ...


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