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People v. Mejia

California Court of Appeals, Fourth District, Second Division

March 16, 2017

THE PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent,
PHILIP RAYMOND MEJIA, Defendant and Appellant.

         APPEAL from the Superior Court of San Bernardino County No. FVI1302657. Debra Harris, Judge. Affirmed with directions.

          Jennifer A. Gambale, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Defendant and Appellant.

          Kamala D. Harris and Xavier Becerra, Attorneys General, Gerald A. Engler, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Julie L. Garland, Assistant Attorney General, Charles C. Ragland and Kathryn Kirschbaum, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.


          McKINSTER J.

         Defendant and appellant Philip Raymond Mejia appeals his conviction for torture, spousal rape, spousal abuse, and criminal threats. We reject his contention that the court should have conducted a hearing pursuant to People v. Marsden (1970) 2 Cal.3d 118 (Marsden) based on defendant's statements during a hearing on his request to represent himself. We also reject his contentions concerning the improper admission of evidence. We agree, however, that Penal Code section 654[1] requires remand for resentencing.


         Defendant was charged with one count of torture (§ 206; count 1); one count of spousal rape with tying and binding (§§ 262, subd. (a)(1), 667.61, subds. (b), (e)(5); count 2); one count of infliction of corporal injury on a spouse (§ 273.5, subd. (a); count 3); and one count of criminal threats (§ 422; count 4). As to all four counts, the information alleged that defendant administered methamphetamine to the victim in the commission of the offenses.

         A jury returned guilty verdicts on all four counts. It found the allegation of tying and binding true, but found the allegation of administration of methamphetamine not true as to all counts.

         The trial court imposed the upper term of four years in state prison on count 3, with a consecutive term of eight months on count 4. On count 2, the court imposed a term of 15 years to life, and on count 1, it imposed a term of “seven years to life” in state prison.[2] Defendant filed a timely notice of appeal.


         Defendant and the victim met when she was 15 years old. When she was 18 or 19 years old, they were married. By the time the victim was 20 years old, she had three children. She and defendant used methamphetamine together but stopped when the third child was born. From the beginning, defendant said “mean things” to the victim and would sometimes hit her. In approximately March 2013, when defendant lost his job, his abusiveness slowly got worse. On one occasion, defendant burned her leg with a methamphetamine pipe when she said she did not want to smoke the drug. On another occasion, he hit her all over her body with a wooden flute. Other times, he hit her on her head with his hands.

         The victim suspected that defendant had cheated on her, but she “couldn't question what he was doing.” Talking back to defendant or not wanting to do what he asked would “set him off.” In order to start a conversation about infidelity, she told him, untruthfully, that she had cheated on him. He was angry and talked about punishing her. He said there were “consequences.” On other occasions, defendant would handcuff her to the bed frame and make her lie on the floor. They had occasionally used the handcuffs during sex, for “fun purposes, ” but after that, it “wasn't fun anymore.” Defendant would sometimes leave her handcuffed to the bed for hours or days at a time. While she was handcuffed, she was not able to eat or drink water. Defendant would “sometimes” allow her to go to the bathroom, but sometimes she was forced to “go” on herself. The handcuffs sometimes cut or bruised her wrists.

         At some point, defendant began to video record their sexual activity. The victim could not remember why it started, but it was after defendant lost his job. She was “kind of okay” with it in the beginning, but sometimes she would get embarrassed and push the cell phone or camera away. At the beginning, there were no handcuffs or abuse, other than defendant “being mean” and telling her what to do. Defendant became increasing abusive, hitting her, using a Taser on her, keeping her from her children and handcuffing her. She had “too many [Taser] marks to count” on her chest and stomach. He “tased” her once while she was tied to a chair.

         Defendant taped her to a chair with duct tape and put duct tape over her mouth, making it hard to breathe. On one occasion, she was bent across the chair on her stomach, with her head on the floor. Defendant had intercourse with her while she was bound. She shook her head to indicate that she did not want to, but she could not otherwise protest. He also engaged in anal intercourse with her on some occasions, even though she said she did not want to, because it hurt. Although she sometimes engaged willingly in oral sex, there were times when she did not want to do it, but did anyway so that defendant would not hit her or handcuff her. Defendant would sometimes force her. On one occasion, he sodomized her with a socket wrench.

         At one point, defendant cleared the victim's clothes out of the bedroom closet and put a baby mattress on the floor. He locked her in the closet with a bucket and told her to stay there and not move. He said he was going to have other men come to the house and force her to orally copulate them. He also threatened to sell the videos on YouTube. He threatened to wrap her in a rug and set her on fire. He once threw gasoline on her while she was in the closet. Then he shut her in the closet and left her there for hours. On one occasion, he cut the side of her thigh with a small screwdriver.

         At one point, the victim asked defendant to let her kill herself. He tied a rope around her neck and had her stand on a bucket. He kicked the bucket away and let her hang while he was holding the rope. The rope cut her neck.

         The victim did not have a key to the couple's apartment. Defendant screwed the front door closed to keep people from coming in. He also added locks to the door. There was also a surveillance camera in the living room.

         At least once, defendant hit the victim so hard that she lost consciousness. He revived her by throwing ice on her. On one occasion, he put duct tape on her face, put a wet towel on her face and over her nose, and poured water on her. She could not breathe. Defendant had a device he said was used to strangle a person and threatened to use it on her, to frighten her. He never used it, however.

         On August 21, 2013, the victim was late getting the oldest child ready for school. Defendant smacked her with his hand on the back of her head. She then got the middle child ready for school. Defendant took that child to school; the oldest one stayed home. Before defendant left, he hit the victim on the back of the head again and said he would “beat the shit” out of her. However, when he left, he left the door unlocked. She ran to a neighbor's apartment with the two children and called the police. The neighbor said that the victim appeared “petrified.” While she was on the phone with the police, she could hear defendant shouting because he could not find her. She had multiple bruises on her face from prior incidents.

         The police officer who responded first spoke to the victim and observed her injuries, including burn marks on her stomach. He then entered the couple's apartment. He found a Taser in a drawer in the bedroom, a baggie of methamphetamine in a tool box, and handcuffs on the bedroom floor. He also observed a live feed from a camera in the living room, being shown on a television screen. He saw a toddler bed in the closet and observed that the closet locked from the outside.

         Detectives who arrived later spoke to the victim and observed that she was extremely thin[3] and had multiple cuts, bruises and abrasions in various stages of healing, and Taser marks on her stomach. In the couple's apartment, the detectives found a strangulation device and handcuffs in the bedroom, a bag of methamphetamine and a methamphetamine pipe, a rope and a gasoline can. They also found several digital flash drives containing videos of various sexual acts.

         Thirteen videos were played for the jury. A transcript of the conversations heard on the videos was provided to the jury and admitted into evidence.

         In one of the videos, defendant said to the camera, “The reality of it is, is yes, if she does anything stupid I will kill her. Number two, she thinks that camera's a joke. [Its purpose] is to show you, when you fuck with the wrong person, husband, wife, child... you do the wrong things, there's a consequence sooner or later in life.”

         At another point, he said, “[I]t was her choice. She chose this okay um... she has bruises all over her legs. I did that. I did that because I tied her ass up, I beat the shit out of her, I tased her. I fucked her in the ass and I did everything I fuckin' wanted to do and I could have done more because she's a bitch.” He told the victim that he was recording the session for YouTube, but “[n]ot the rape, not any of that.” He told his “audience” that the victim “may not die” that day, “but you will see what a hostage can and will go through. There's torture, pain, tape, chains, uh knives, needles, water... a lot of things that... a person can use to start getting to somebody.” He later told her that if she continued to lie to him, he would put her murder on YouTube.




         A court is required to hold a hearing into a defendant's complaint that his court-appointed attorney is not providing competent representation whenever the defendant clearly indicates that he is seeking substitution of counsel. (Marsden, supra, 2 Cal.3d at p. 123; People v. Valdez (2004) 32 Cal.4th 73, 97; People v. Lucky (1988) 45 Cal.3d 259, 281 & fn. 8.) Defendant contends that because he expressed dissatisfaction with his attorney during a hearing on his request to represent himself, the trial court was obliged to conduct a Marsden hearing. As we discuss, however, defendant made it clear during that hearing that he was not seeking substitution of counsel but wanted to represent himself. Accordingly, the court had no duty to conduct a Marsden hearing.

         The issue arose as follows: On April 10, 2014, the trial court commenced a Marsden hearing based on its understanding that defendant wanted a new attorney. However, defendant explained to the court that he was not seeking a new attorney. What he wanted was to have his “conflict answered.” He did not elaborate as to what that meant. Because defendant stated unequivocally that he did not want a new attorney, the court concluded the hearing.

         On November 21, 2014, the court again convened a Marsden hearing. The court stated that it had received a “conflict of interest and complaint letter.” In the letter, defendant stated that he wanted his public defender, Michael Mendoza, dismissed for incompetence. Defendant stated that Mr. Mendoza was not communicating with him, that he had breached defendant's direction not to negotiate with the district attorney, that he had failed to retrieve evidence defendant wanted him to obtain, that he had failed to file a Pitchess[5] motion, and that he had failed to ensure a hearing on the record of a motion, filed by defendant personally, seeking to set aside the information pursuant to section 995. The court listened to ...

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