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People v. Soto

California Court of Appeals, Sixth District

June 30, 2016

THE PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent,
JUAQUIN GARCIA SOTO, Defendant and Appellant.

          Order Filed Date 7/19/16

         Monterey County Superior Court No.: SSC120180A The Honorable Carrie M. Panetta, Judge.

          Attorney for Defendant and Appellant Juaquin Gacia Soto: Stephen B. Bedrick under appointment by the Court of Appeal for Appellant

          Attorneys for Plaintiff and Respondent The People: Kamala D. Harris, Attorney General of California Gerald A Engler, Chief Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey M. Laurence, Senior Assistant Attorney General Seth K. Schalit, Supervising Deputy Attorney General Kevin Kiley, Deputy Attorney General Amit Kurlekar, Deputy Attorney General


         THE COURT:

         It is ordered that the opinion filed herein on June 30, 2016, be modified as follows:

         1. The text of Footnote 8 on page 19 is replaced with the following text:

         In a petition for rehearing, the Attorney General belatedly argues that the instruction should not have been given because defendant’s belief in the need for self-defense was purely delusional. (See Elmore, supra, 59 Cal.4th at p. 960.) The record, however, contains substantial evidence from which reasonable jurors could have found that defendant’s belief in the need for self-defense was not entirely delusional. For example, defendant’s expert testified that sleep deprivation caused by methamphetamine use negatively affects users’ ability to process information, form judgments, and make good decisions. That the trial court admitted this evidence and allowed defendant to raise a claim of imperfect self-defense constituted an implicit finding that substantial evidence supported the instruction notwithstanding the holding of Elmore.

         2. On page 22, the following footnote, numbered footnote 10, is appended to the last sentence of Section II.A., immediately preceding the heading for Section II.B.:

         In her petition for rehearing, the Attorney General contends we sua sponte raised the issue of voluntary intoxication as it pertains to express malice. She argues that defendant limited his claim to voluntary intoxication as it applies to implied malice only. Defendant did not state his claim in so limited a fashion. Much of defendant’s argument concerned malice generally without specifying implied or express malice, and he relied on case law pertaining to imperfect self-defense as it applies to express malice. (See appellant’s opening brief at page 17, citing Elmore, supra, and In re Christian S., supra.) Indeed, the Attorney General’s brief in response acknowledged that defendant’s claim included express malice. (See respondent’s brief at page 3, stating “Appellant argues that a jury instruction explaining that evidence of his voluntary intoxication could be considered for purposes of (1) negating express malice....”)

         The Attorney General’s petition for rehearing also contends our holding produces an “incongruous” result because a defendant charged with implied malice murder cannot present evidence of voluntary intoxication, while a defendant charged with express malice-an arguably more culpable state of mind-is allowed to present such evidence. To the extent this result may be incongruous, it is a consequence of Section 29.4, which explicitly makes voluntary intoxication relevant to express malice while omitting implied malice.

         Respondent’s petition for rehearing is denied.

         There is no change in the judgment.

          Márquez, J.

         Defendant Juaquin Garcia Soto, armed with a knife, kicked in the front door of Israel Ramirez’s apartment. Upon entering the apartment, defendant found Ramirez and his partner, Patricia Saavedra, sitting in the living room watching television. The couple’s young son was also in the living room. Shortly thereafter, defendant and Ramirez engaged in a knife fight in which both parties stabbed each other multiple times. Defendant then fled the scene and Ramirez died from his wounds.

         At trial, Saavedra testified that defendant started the knife fight by stabbing Ramirez first. Defendant, however, claimed that Ramirez started the knife fight, forcing defendant to protect himself with his knife. Defendant also testified that he had been using alcohol and methamphetamine in the days before the offense. Based on defendant’s version of events, defendant asserted a theory of imperfect self-defense.

         The jury found defendant guilty of second degree murder and first degree burglary. The jury also found that defendant had used a deadly or dangerous weapon with respect to both counts. The trial court sentenced defendant to a total term of 16 years to life in prison.

         Defendant raises two claims on appeal. First, he contends the trial court erred by limiting the jury’s consideration of evidence of voluntary intoxication. Based on a modified version of CALCRIM No. 625, the trial court precluded the jury from considering evidence of defendant’s voluntary intoxication with respect to his claim of imperfect self-defense. But Penal Code section 29.4 expressly allows for consideration of voluntary intoxication with respect to express malice. Because an actual but unreasonable belief in the need for self-defense negates express malice, Penal Code section 29.4 makes evidence of voluntary intoxication relevant to the state of mind required for imperfect self-defense. We therefore hold the trial court erred by precluding the jury from considering evidence of defendant’s voluntary intoxication with respect to his claim of imperfect self-defense. We conclude, however, that this error was not prejudicial.

         Second, defendant contends the trial court erred by excluding certain pretrial statements he made to police. He also contends his trial counsel was ineffective by failing to introduce the statements as prior consistent statements. We hold defendant’s pretrial statements were not admissible as prior consistent statements. Accordingly, the trial court did not err when it excluded the statements, and defense counsel was not ineffective for failing to seek their admission.

         Finding no prejudicial error, we will affirm the judgment.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         A. Facts of the Offense

         1. Overview

         The victim, Israel Ramirez, lived with his partner Patricia Saavedra and their two children in an apartment on the second floor of a two-story building in Greenfield, California. On July 20, 2012, defendant, an unemployed 32-year-old farm worker, entered the building and went to the second floor. First, he knocked on the door of Bernadino Solano’s apartment. When Solano opened the door, defendant stepped in, briefly looked around, and left. Shortly thereafter, defendant kicked in the door of Ramirez’s apartment down the hall from Solano’s apartment. Ramirez, Saavedra, and their young son were sitting in the living room watching television when defendant entered the apartment.

         The parties put forth different versions of the subsequent events. Saavedra testified that defendant approached them and stabbed Ramirez in the neck while the couple sat on the couch. She testified that Ramirez then went into the kitchen with defendant in pursuit while she retreated to a bedroom with their child. In his testimony, defendant admitted that he had kicked in the front door of the apartment, but he testified he was about to leave when Ramirez approached him with a knife and stabbed him first. Defendant claimed that only then did he take out his knife to defend himself.

         Police found Ramirez’s body lying face down in a pool of blood on the floor of the hallway outside the apartment. Defendant, who had fled the scene, was later arrested at a relative’s house.

         2. Testimony of Bernadino Solano

         Bernadino Solano testified as follows. He lived with his wife and family in their second-floor apartment, neighboring Ramirez’s apartment. On July 10, 2012, at around 6:00 p.m., Solano heard someone knocking loudly on his door. When Solano opened the door, he saw defendant standing there looking upset. Defendant told Solano to come out into the hallway, but Solano refused and tried to shut the door. Defendant stuck his foot inside to prevent the door from closing. He then pushed the door back open. Defendant appeared angry and was hiding his right hand behind his back. Defendant then took three steps into Solano’s apartment, looked around, and walked out. While Solano closed and locked the door, his daughter called 911. About a half hour later, Solano heard noises from down the hall that sounded like a door being kicked in.

         On cross-examination, Solano testified that defendant did not appear intoxicated. Solano admitted, however, that he had testified at the preliminary hearing that defendant appeared intoxicated.

         3. Testimony of Patricia Saavedra

         Patricia Saavedra testified as follows. She and Ramirez lived together in a second-floor apartment on Oak Avenue in Greenfield. At the time of the offense, they had been living together for about three years.

         On July 10, 2012, Saavedra and Ramirez were sitting on the couch in their living room watching television. Their young son was sitting on the floor about two feet away. A renter was staying in another room of the apartment. At around 6:40 p.m., defendant kicked in the door and entered the apartment. Defendant started walking slowly towards Ramirez and Saavedra while looking from side to side. Defendant had his right hand in his front pocket. Ramirez asked defendant what he wanted. Defendant kept asking if Ramirez was alone. Ramirez and Saavedra remained seated on the couch. When defendant got to the couch, he stabbed Ramirez in the neck with a knife. Ramirez got up and went to the kitchen. Saavedra got up and grabbed her son. Defendant said something to her in English and held the knife up. Saavedra did not understand what defendant had said because she did not speak English. Defendant then followed Ramirez into the kitchen. At the same time, Saavedra took her son into a nearby room where they sheltered in place with Saavedra’s young daughter.

         From the other room, Saavedra could hear the sound of the two men “grabbing each other.”[1] She remained in the room for about five minutes while she called 911. When she came out, defendant and Ramirez were gone. She asked the renter if he had seen Ramirez, but the renter said he had not. Saavedra then went into the hallway and saw Ramirez’s dead body.

         Saavedra testified that while defendant’s behavior seemed strange, he did not stumble or slur his words. When asked why she remained on the couch as defendant approached, she replied that “we are not trouble makers, ” and “we hadn’t done anything.” She testified that when defendant initially broke in, she asked Ramirez, “Do you know this man? Do you have a problem with him?” Ramirez responded, “No.”

         4. Testimony of Jae Yi

         Jae Yi testified as follows. Yi was the manager of a grocery store on the first floor of the building. The entrance to the upstairs apartments was behind a gated doorway around the corner on the side of the building. Yi testified that around 6:00 p.m. he heard noises upstairs that sounded like children running. He asked an employee to go upstairs and tell them to “keep it down.” The employee went around to the entrance on the side of the building, came back, and told Yi there were no children upstairs. Yi then went around to the side of the building to see what was going on.

         Yi found defendant inside the gated doorway, groaning and breathing heavily. Yi told him to come out, and defendant complied. Defendant was bleeding from a wound in his side, and his hand was bloody. Yi told him to sit down and offered to call an ambulance, but defendant refused. Instead, he paced back and forth on the sidewalk in front of the doorway while Yi called the ambulance. Defendant appeared to be talking to himself in Spanish. After pacing for about five minutes, defendant went into an empty parking lot on the side of ...

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